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Two Lawmakers Renew Calls for Action Against UT Regent

Two members of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations indicated on Friday that they would like more action taken against a University of Texas System regent.

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Updated, March 17, 3:15 p.m.: State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, a co-chair of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operation, said on Monday that there were no current plans to hold any further hearings about University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa's impending departure.

Two lawmakers indicated a desire for the committee, which has been investigating the behavior of UT Regent Wallace Hall, to gather in light of the release of an email indicating that Hall's attitude toward Cigarroa may have soured prior to the chancellor's announcement of his resignation.

"We don't have any plans at this time to schedule a hearing anytime soon," Flynn said. "But I always appreciate the opportunity to hear comments from members of the committee."

Original Story, March 14, 5:45 p.m.: The release of excerpts from an email from the University of Texas System Board of Regents chairman has prompted members of a House transparency committee to indicate that they would like to see more action taken against UT Regent Wallace Hall, who is being investigated by the committee.

In the Feb. 5 email, portions of which were published in The Dallas Morning News, Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster indicated to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa that he disagreed with alleged efforts by Hall to pressure Cigarroa "into taking an action that you do not feel is in the best interests of UT-Austin or of the UT System."

On Feb. 10, Cigarroa announced his intention to step down this year.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, a member of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, issued a statement Friday calling for Gov. Rick Perry, who appoints all the regents, to request Hall's resignation. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, another committee member, sent a letter to the panel’s co-chairs requesting that the committee convene to hear additional testimony regarding the system's governance.

The committee has been investigating Hall's actions as a board member, where much of his time has been spent digging into information about the administration of the University of Texas at Austin. Hall and his attorneys have said that in the course of carrying out his duties as a regent, Hall has uncovered issues that warranted further investigation. But some lawmakers have alleged that he is driven by a desire to oust UT-Austin President Bill Powers.

At a December board meeting, Cigarroa had the opportunity to make a recommendation about Powers' employment, including its termination. He recommended that Powers continue to serve as president, and the board declined to vote on the recommendation.

“If Wallace Hall has been pushing Chancellor Cigarroa to do something that isn’t in the UT System’s best interest – which is what Mr. Foster’s email says — it warrants investigation by our committee,” Larson said in his statement. "I am now concerned that Mr. Hall’s abuse of his office may have led to the departure of a good friend of mine and an outstanding Chancellor."

Cigarroa has said that the ongoing tensions between UT-Austin and the system's board of regents was not the impetus for his departure. Hall did not respond to a request for comment on Larson's statement, which also renewed the representative's previous call for the regent's resignation.

"The Legislature has an obligation to Texas taxpayers to see just how much harm Mr. Hall has inflicted on one of the nation's flagship universities," Larson said. "Once again, I urge Governor Perry to request the resignation of Wallace Hall to restore order within the UT Board of Regents."

Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor, did not indicate that Perry would make such a request. "The governor is focused on making higher education in Texas more affordable, accountable and accessible, and he expects appointees to be diligent in their duties to ensure state agencies and institutions are operating legally, efficiently and in the state’s best interests," she responded in an email.

In a letter sent on Friday, Martinez Fischer asked state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, the transparency committee's co-chairs, to convene the committee to hear testimony from Foster and Cigarroa. "I believe that this committee has an interest in ascertaining the facts surrounding Chancellor Cigarroa's departure," he wrote.

The letter was also a reassertion of a request Martinez Fischer had made on the day Cigarroa announced his resignation.

On Feb. 10, Martinez Fischer wrote to the co-chairs observing that in addition to Cigarroa, other high-profile system employees, such as the system's longtime general counsel, had recently found employment elsewhere.

"I am concerned that without proper leadership and experienced staff there will be continued communication and administrative issues between the Board of Regents and the component institutions of the System," he wrote in February, asking that hearings be held and noting that he had been assured that there was bipartisan support to hear testimony on the subject of Cigarroa's departure.

In his Friday letter, Martinez Fischer said that the revelation of Foster's letter "raised further questions about Chancellor Cigarroa's exit," and asked the co-chairs to respond to his renewed request.

Disclosure: At the time of publication, the University of Texas at Austin was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune and Paul Foster was a major donor to the Tribune. (You can also review the full list of Tribune donors and sponsors below $1,000.)  

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Higher education Carol Alvarado Dan Flynn Education Lyle Larson Trey Martinez Fischer