Texplainer: Can a University System Regent Be Recalled?

Hey, Texplainer: Can a regent of a university system be recalled or impeached?

Last month, as lawmakers raised concerns that University of Texas System regents were "micromanaging" the system's flagship institution, House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, was asked how gubernatorially appointed regents might be recalled or impeached. He did not know the answer.

"I had not ever really focused on that," he told the Tribune. "Therefore, I asked a staff lawyer to give me a briefing on it."

Branch's inquiry drew significant attention. It was even lauded by the Houston Chronicle editorial board in a column expressing support for University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers

The answers are spelled out in Article 15 of the Texas Constitution and Chapter 665 of the Texas Government Code.

Recalling a regent is easiest for the one who appointed that official. Article 15 says that "the governor who appoints an officer may remove the officer with the advice and consent of two-thirds of the members of the senate present." If the Senate is not present, the governor can call the body back for up to two days to settle the matter.

Gov. Rick Perry initiated this move against embattled Texas Southern University board chairwoman Belinda Griffin in 2007 by notifying the Senate that he wanted her gone. She ultimately resigned.

But what if the governor is not inclined to oust his own appointees?

The power to initiate impeachment proceedings is vested in the Texas House. Among the officers whom House members can begin impeachment proceedings against when they are in session, per the state's Government Code, are "a member, regent, trustee, or commissioner having control or management of a state institution or enterprise."

If the House is not in session, members may convene to launch into impeachment proceedings by proclamation of the governor or the speaker of the House if petitioned by at least 50 members, or by proclamation of the majority of members.

If the House is in favor of ousting the regent, the Senate must then convene as a court of impeachment to settle the matter. A vote for removal requires at least two-thirds of the Senate.

As for the reasons a regent could be impeached, Branch noted that Texas statute was pretty loose compared with federal impeachment provisions. "There it's high crimes and misdemeanors stuff," he said. "This one's a very wide open one."

Bottom line: A regent can be impeached, and the rules are laid out in the Texas Constitution and Texas Government Code. But it's a highly involved process. If the governor wants to remove the official he appointed, the process becomes simpler.

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