Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed a bill on Monday aimed at improving transparency for university system regents and curbing what he called "micromanagement."
Senate Bill 15 would require all regents to be confirmed by the Senate before voting on matters relating to the budget and personnel of the system or any institution. Before being able to vote on any matters, regents would be required to complete ethics training. The legislation also adds into statute a provision noting that any duty not specifically designated to the system or the regents is reserved for individual institutions.
"It's about transparency," Seliger said. "It's about all the phone calls that all of the members of this body and the lieutenant governor have received."
The days prior to the bill's filing have been marked by a growing clamor and concern in the Senate about the treatment of Bill Powers, the president of the University of Texas at Austin, by some regents on the board of the UT System.
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Seliger noted that when management issues at the state's major public universities go wrong, "it can jeopardize the status of our important institutions."
But he said the bill is "very pragmatic" and not targeting any individual regents. He said it was important to clarify that boards of regents are responsible for chancellors, who are responsible for presidents, who are responsible for deans, and so on down the line.
"If we have areas of micromanagement, that is a problem in any industry," he said.
Currently, if the governor appoints a regent when the Legislature is not in session, that regent can serve — with full voting capabilities — until he or she gets the chance to be confirmed. In some cases, that can mean a nearly two-year wait until the next session.
It is likely that some regents will be appointed this year by Gov. Rick Perry on such an interim basis.