The UT System regents have seen their roles transformed in recent years from often mundane bureaucrat to flag bearer for one or the other side in the ideological battles over higher education. Former Gov. Rick Perry and his ilk, led by Regent Wallace Hall, went on numerous crusades in the past years in search of controversial educational reforms throughout the state. In their grand vision, this University — the state's flagship — would be reduced to a second-rate trade school, as scholastic research would be heavily eschewed in favor of quickly producing diplomas.
This did not sit well with William Powers Jr., the president of this University, and the battle lines were soon drawn. With Gov. Greg Abbott just taking office, and three regent spots open just next month, we have impatiently waited to see if our new governor would follow the anti-intellectual, asinine choices of his predecessor.
Thankfully, as a result of his new picks and renomination to the Board of Regents, the answer looks to be an emphatic no. Abbott nominated Regent Steve Hicks, a vociferous opponent of Perry and Hall's antics, for another term on the board. He also nominated David Beck and Sara Martinez Tucker, respectively, to other positions. All three individuals are expected to be easily confirmed by the state Senate.
According to the Texas Tribune, Beck was instrumental in the creation of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group that has been sharply critical of both Perry's proposals and Hall's conduct. Tucker, meanwhile, served as Undersecretary of Education during the last Bush administration. Additionally, unlike Perry's key picks, she did not donate to the Governor beforehand.
In taking these little steps, Abbott has already changed gubernatorial policy toward this University. His actions appear to cement a desire to transform the UT regent back into the bureaucrat it once was, whose biggest priority is the success of the universities and not ideological bosses or cadres.
Michael Quinn Sullivan, a right-wing activist who has been among Hall's biggest backers, is already unhappy. In a recent post for his website, Empower Texans, Sullivan blasted Tucker in particular, castigating — among other things — her alleged ties to the controversial evaluation system in schools known as "Common Core."
Indeed, with such a strong pivot away from Perry's deleterious ways, Abbott will encounter some resistance. But we believe the gratitude he will receive from all of us at this University, who have overwhelmingly opposed Perry and Hall's schemes, will far outweigh that resistance.