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The Brief: Feb. 19, 2013

A dramatic show of support in the Legislature for the president of the University of Texas at Austin has cast the spotlight on discord unfolding within the state's largest university system.

Bill Powers, president of the University of Texas at Austin, at a TribLive event on April 28, 2011.

The Big Conversation

A dramatic show of support in the Legislature for University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers has cast the spotlight on discord unfolding within the state's largest university system.

The House and Senate on Monday passed resolutions honoring Powers, whose heated meeting with the UT System's board of regents last week exposed the strained relationship between system leaders and their flagship university, UT-Austin.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst provided perhaps strongest defense of Powers, at one point becoming emotional while extolling the president's character.

"I believe in reform, and I know Bill Powers believes in reform," Dewhurst said in front of the Senate. "That’s why I’m particularly troubled when I see UT regents go around this man. I see them trying to micromanage the system."

Dewhurst also accused Powers' critics of "character assassination," apparently alluding to the circulation of anonymous letters containing rumors about Powers' family.

At last week's meeting, Powers faced intense questioning from three regents over issues like hiring practices and undergraduate completion rates. The group of regents — appointed by Gov. Rick Perry — has previously clashed with Powers over his skepticism toward several higher education policies backed by Perry and conservative groups.

Of the show of support on Monday, Powers told the Austin American-Statesman: "I was deeply touched by what the senators and representatives said. Other than that, I’m going to get up every day and do the best job I can to advance the University of Texas."


•    GOP state senator from East Texas promotes gas tax increase to fund transportation (The Dallas Morning News): "A Republican state senator is arguing forcefully for raising taxes to fund transportation, saying it would be more conservative to pay as you go with increased tax revenue than to go further into debt to complete road projects. And Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler went a step further Monday during a panel discussion at the Texas Transportation Forum in Austin, adding that he’s not concerned about how such a stand might impact his re-election chances in typically anti-tax East Texas."

•    Self-driving Google car a big hit at Texas Transportation Forum (Fort Worth Star-Telegram): "Some of the best transportation thinkers in Texas and across the United States are being upstaged this week by a car that drives itself. About 1,400 people are attending the eighth annual Texas Transportation Forum through Tuesday in Austin. But while those experts meet in Hilton conference rooms and grapple with tough issues such as how to handle an increase in freight-hauling trucks on the roads, or how to pay for highways under a tightened state budget, it’s the Google 'self-driving car' parked outside the downtown Austin hotel’s entrance that’s getting the most hubbub."

•    Education Chairman Aims to Expand Charter Schools (The Texas Tribune): "Broad changes to the state's charter school system, including the creation of a new state board to oversee the state contract process, would result from legislation filed Monday by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston."

Quote of the Day: "I was fine before I got this job. If they kick me out of office, I’ll be fine." — State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, on raising the gas tax to help pay for state transportation projects


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Higher education State government Texas Legislature