Since it was created in May, little has been heard from the Legislature's Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency. But today, its first public hearing was set for Wednesday, Sept. 21.
The committee is co-chaired by state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who chair the higher education committees in their respective chambers. It was created by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus in the midst of controversy and concern regarding the direction that regents appointed by Gov. Rick Perry intend to take the state's public university systems — particularly the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System. At the time, the committee was derided by some critics as being part of an effort solely focused on defending the status quo in higher education.
The committee includes which includes five additional House members and five additional Senate members. The senators are Dallas Republican John Carona, Lubbock Republican Robert Duncan, Amarillo Republican Kel Seliger, Houston Democrat Rodney Ellis and Austin Democrat Kirk Watson. The House members are Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen, San Antonio Democrat Joaquin Castro, Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson, Brenham Republican Lois Kolkhorst and Waxahachie Republican Jim Pitts.
As expressed in a release announcing next month's hearing, the committee is intended to "ensure that governing boards follow best practices when developing and implementing policy; look for major policy decisions to be adequately vetted and discussed transparently; and protect the excellence and high quality of our state's institutions of higher education."
In a statement, Branch thanked Dewhurst and Straus for creating the committee and said, "Governance of our universities is important because, in so many ways, higher education will set the course for the future of our state."
Zaffirini expressed a similar sentiment, noting that "our colleges and universities are among Texas' most important assets."
According to the posting, the meeting's agenda calls for the committee to adopt its rules and hear invited and public testimony. Committee staffers say the list of invitees is still being formalized.