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Lawmakers: Firing UT-Austin President Would Violate Instructions

UPDATED: The chairs of a House committee have reminded University of Texas System leaders that they were instructed not to oust UT-Austin President Bill Powers while lawmakers investigate one of the system's regents.

House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations chairs Carol Alvarado, D-Houston and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, explain the 7-1 vote to recommend drawing up articles of impeachment against UT Regent Wallace Hall, Jr. on May 12, 2014.

Updated July 7: 

On Sunday, the co-chairs of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations sent a letter to Paul Foster, the chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, reminding them of their previous request that no "adverse employment action" be taken against University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers and others.

The committee is currently investigating the activities of one of the board members and has repeatedly told the system that the employment of individuals, including Powers, who might be called as witnesses should not be tampered with while the investigation is in progress.

The chancellor and the board are scheduled to discuss — and possibly terminate — Powers' employment at a meeting on Thursday.

Original Story: 

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, one of the co-chairs of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, said on Friday that she was "disappointed" by reports that University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers has been asked to resign or risk being terminated.

She said she intends to remind UT System leaders that lawmakers instructed them not to oust the president, because legislators are in the process of investigating one of the regents.

The committee is currently drafting articles of impeachment against UT System Regent Wallace Hall, who has been accused of abusing his authority in his pursuit of information about the UT-Austin administration. Hall has denied any wrongdoing. The committee has been officially conducting its investigation for more than a year.

Last July, as part of that investigation, Alvarado and her co-chairman, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, sent a letter to Gene Powell, then-chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, instructing the board not to take any "adverse employment action" against a list of people related to their inquiry, including Powers.

"I don't know what part of the letter people didn't comprehend," Alvarado said. "I don't appreciate the selective memory some people seem to have."

She noted that, earlier this year, the committee sent the board a second letter reiterating their desire that Powers and others not be terminated while the lawmakers' work continued. Another letter with the same message will be forthcoming, she said. 

"Maybe the third time will be the charm," Alvarado said.

Multiple sources told the Tribune on Friday that Powers has been asked by UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to resign ahead of the board's July 10 meeting or face termination. Sources also said that Powers had informed Cigarroa that he would not resign, but was willing to discuss a timetable for his exit.

Cigarroa and Powers could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Tensions have spiked recently following Cigarroa's announcement that he intended to launch a full external investigation of the university's admissions practices following allegations that legislators were allowed undue influence over the process.

As for what the committee could do if Powers is subjected to negative employment action, despite legislators' warnings, Alvarado said she did not know.

"I'm not sure," she said. "We'll certainly explore any and all options, but I think it's disrespectful of them not to adhere to that."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Paul Foster is a major donor to The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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