Abbott Announces Appointees to University System Boards

UPDATED: Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday announced his nominees to fill upcoming vacancies on university system boards, sending clear signals about his vision for those boards.

University of Texas Regent R. Steven Hicks asks a question on technology licensing during committee meetings on May 14, 2014.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Steve Hicks, a University of Texas System regent who has been a vocal opponent of regents who have criticized the system’s flagship campus in Austin, was reappointed to the board by Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday.

Abbott also appointed Sara Martinez Tucker of Dallas and David Beck of Houston to the UT System’s board. The governor named his appointments to the Texas A&M University System and the Texas Tech University System on Thursday as well. The appointments will become effective Feb. 1, pending approval by the Senate.

The reappointment of Hicks, in particular, sends a clear signal about the new governor’s vision for his university system boards.

In recent years, the UT board has been divided, and its relationships with the University of Texas at Austin and some members of the Texas Legislature have been strained, as some regents — particularly Wallace Hall, who was censured by lawmakers last year for his behavior on the board — have initiated multiple investigations into the administration of the flagship university.

Hall has argued that regents are duty-bound to ferret out possible mismanagement relating to professor salaries, accounting and the admissions process. Hicks has alleged that Hall is on a “witch hunt” targeting UT-Austin President Bill Powers, who plans to resign in June.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune last week, Abbott was asked about two regents whose terms on the UT System board are almost over: Would his appointees more resemble Gene Powell, who served as the board's chairman during much of this time and encouraged the investigations, or Hicks, who was a vocal advocate of ceasing activities that were causing conflict?

"I want people who are dedicated to the job who will focus on bringing excellence to the organization," Abbott responded. "I will give them marching orders about what I want them to achieve, and I expect them to achieve it without micromanaging."

That he was referring to the Hicks model became clear on Thursday when Abbott re-appointed Hicks. Powell and Bobby Stillwell, who was an ally of Hicks, will cycle off the board. 

Hicks, a former radio industry executive and the current owner and executive chairman of Capstar Partners LLC, was originally appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Perry in 2009 and reappointed in 2011. Along with his wife, Hicks recently served as one of Abbott's appointees to the 2015 Texas Inaugural Committee. He is a UT-Austin graduate. He and his family have donated at least $160,000 to Abbott, who previously served as the state’s attorney general, over the last decade.  

But not all the appointees are such big donors. Martinez Tucker does not appear to have contributed to the new governor, according to public records.

Originally from Laredo and currently living in Dallas, she is the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit organization focused on improving student performance in science, technology, engineering and math fields. She previously served as the U.S. undersecretary of education in the administration of President George W. Bush. She currently serves on the board of trustees at the University of Notre Dame, and has a bachelor's degree and business degree from UT-Austin.

Beck is a trial lawyer and senior partner at Beck Redden, a law firm based in Houston. In 2010, Texas Lawyer magazine named him one of the "25 greatest lawyers of the past quarter-century." That same year he was named a distinguished alumnus of UT-Austin, where he attended law school. He went to Lamar University for his undergraduate degree. He and his family have donated more than $88,000 to Abbott over the course of his political career, including $80,000 in 2013 and 2014.

Beck is also a founding member of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group that formed in 2011 and has been critical of both Hall’s actions and some higher education policies proposed by Perry. Through its spokeswoman, Jenifer Sarver, the coalition issued a statement urging the Senate to act swiftly on the new appointments, which it said “signal a new era of collaboration, cooperation and excellence for the System.”

Abbott's appointees to the A&M System board all hold degrees from Texas A&M University. They are:

• Phil Adams, the board's current chairman. Adams, the owner and president of Phil Adams Company, which provides insurance products and services, was first appointed by Perry in 2001 and reappointed in 2009. He has given more than $33,000 to Abbott, including $25,000 in 2013.

• Bob Albritton, who leads two Fort Worth-based companies. He is the board chairman and CEO of a railroad construction company called RCL Services Group. He is also CEO of Mayfair Petroleum & Minerals LLC. He donated to Abbott in 2006 and 2008 for a total of $5,000.

• Bill Mahomes Jr., the managing partner of Mahomes Bolden PC, a transactional law firm. While a student at A&M, he made history as the first African-American to matriculate and graduate from the university’s Aggie Corps of Cadets. He gave Abbott $1,500 last March.

Abbott's appointments to the Texas Tech board are:

• Mickey Long, the board current chairman. Long is a graduate of Angelo State University, which is part of the Texas Tech System. He is president of Westex/WLP Well Service LP, a Midland-based well servicing company. He was first appointed to the board by Perry in 2009. He has contributed more than $166,000 to Abbott, including more than $102,000 in 2014.

• Christopher Huckabee, the CEO of Huckabee Architecture, Engineering and Program Management. Huckabee, a graduate of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, has donated about $95,000 to Abbott over the years. He established the student lounge in Texas Tech’s college of architecture in 2007. Perry appointed him to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board twice in 2013, first in May to complete someone else’s term and then again in September for a full one.

• Ron Hammonds, the manager and owner of Grason Communities LLC, a Houston real estate investment firm. He is a Texas Tech graduate who has contributed more than $3,500 to Abbott.

Ross Ramsey contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and the Texas A&M University System are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. Robert Stillwell and Steven Hicks are major donors to the Tribune. Capstar Partners was a corporate sponsor of the Tribune in 2009, and the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education was a corporate sponsor in 2013A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.