Former Comptroller John Sharp was named the sole finalist to be the next chancellor of the Texas A&M University System by the Board of Regents this afternoon. He won't officially have the job until after a state-mandated 21-day waiting period.
Richard Box, the chairman of the A&M System Board of Regents, said there were many reasons why he was looking forward to working with the longtime Democratic officeholder. "John Sharp is a known leader, very respected in this state," Box said. "He can get things done over here for us. He can help us get the bills passed and hopefully help us with future budgets that we have. ... We look forward to having him as our chancellor."
Sharp said, "I look forward to the opportunity. I consider it to be the highest of honors that any Aggie fish can aspire to. Everything that I've accomplished can be traced back to those days in College Station, and I want to make a whole bunch of other students feel the same way."
At the Monday meeting, regents also granted Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin the authority to take any necessary actions regarding the school's athletic conference alignment. The university has reportedly been eager to move out of the Big 12 Conference and into the Southeastern Conference, which declined to offer them an invitation on Sunday but left the door open for the possibility in the — perhaps near — future. With that off the front burner, state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, postponed legislative hearings on the proposed realignment that had been scheduled for Tuesday.
"While events may continue to evolve in the coming weeks, at this time, there is no immediate need to evaluate the merits of an athletic conference reconfiguration involving Texas A&M University and, potentially, other Texas public universities," Branch said in a statement. "If the current situation changes, our Committee is prepared to convene."
In an interview with the Tribune, the full version of which will run tomorrow, Sharp said that he had yet to discuss the matter with the board, but offered his personal opinion on the matter. "I think it’s in the best interest of A&M and in the best interest of the state of Texas that A&M pursue the SEC as vigorously as they can," he said.
Having previously served in the Texas Legislature, as a railroad commissioner and as the state's comptroller, Sharp is no stranger to public service. Nor is he a stranger to Gov. Rick Perry, who was a friend and classmate at Texas A&M and later a political rival.
For anyone pitted in a campaign against the Texas governor — now a presidential candidate — Sharp advised, "Bring a big lunch, because you won't get a chance to eat." He said running against Perry was "akin to running against God," because everything worked in his favor. And he said that his own days of running for office are over.
As for the ongoing controversy over the future of higher education in Texas, Sharp said that changes would have to come from within the individual institutions rather than as a mandate from the top. "If you do top down, a lot of times you may get your initial result," he said, "but if you don’t eventually get the folks at the mid to lower levels. ... It is a fleeting victory. You’ve got to get everybody involved."
Though he was expecting it, Sharp said the regents did not ask him a single question about the controversial "seven breakthrough solutions" for higher education developed by Austin businessman Jeff Sandefer and promoted by Perry.
Box said the system leadership would be focusing on the problems he believes those "solutions" sought to address, such as the need to be more efficient in light of expanding populations and decreased state funding, using their own methodology.
Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, a vocal critic of the proposals put forward by Sandefer and Perry, praised the selection of Sharp. "I can’t think of a better choice for A&M at this time — especially under the circumstances," she told the Tribune. She particularly expressed hope that Sharp would increase transparency of decision-making at the system.
"I do think Mike McKinney was the best chancellor A&M had ever had," said Zaffirini of Sharp's predecessor as chancellor. "I expect John Sharp to work so hard that perhaps in a few years I’ll be saying that about him."
Kent Hance, the chancellor of the Texas Tech University System, and himself a former legislator, expressed similar sentiments. In a statement, he said, "I’ve known John almost 40 years, and he will be a great asset, not only to Texas A&M and higher education, but to the entire state of Texas."
Branch, the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, issued a statement congratulating Sharp, citing his long history of public service and saying, "Once the waiting period is concluded, I look forward to working with him and better understanding his vision for one of our state's most prestigious higher education systems."