Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
An era of disunity on the University of Texas System Board of Regents could soon be ending, as the most controversial member of the board, Wallace Hall, and his two closest ideological allies have been passed over for reappointment to the board.
On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott chose to name three new regents, including recently retired state Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Republican from Tyler. Abbott also named new regents for the Texas A&M University System and the Texas Tech University System. The UT board is the only one where none of the existing regents were reappointed to their slots.
That means the tenures of Hall, Regent Alex Cranberg and Regent Brenda Pejovich will soon likely end, as long as the Senate opts to confirm the appointees.
In addition to Eltife, Abbott named Rad Weaver, CEO of the company owned by UT-Austin megadonor Red McCombs, and Janiece Longoria, a former vice chair of the UT System board.
It’s no surprise that Hall has not been reappointed. But it’s still a major development for the UT System. His six-year tenure has been a time of near-constant strife. He clashed frequently with Bill Powers, who was president of UT-Austin for much of Hall’s tenure. And more recently, he sued current UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven to win access to confidential student records.
Hall’s time helped lead to some major changes. Most notably, he helped bring to light a scandal at UT-Austin over the admission of students with powerful connections who might not have been qualified.
But his detractors accused him of conducting a witch hunt against Powers and other UT-Austin leaders. He requested hundreds of thousands of pages of records, leading to complaints that he was overburdening UT-Austin staff.
Most recently, his lawsuit against McRaven has frustrated other members of the board. Hall is asking for information that could help him find out who helped which students get into UT-Austin. McRaven has denied the records, saying it would violate student privacy. The Texas Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case.
Cranberg and Pejovich supported Hall’s quest to get access to the documents. And they have mostly sided with Hall on other issues related to the future of UT-Austin. With the backing of then-Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed them, they were open to the idea of dramatically raising enrollment at UT-Austin and highly skeptical of tuition increases.
Abbott, meanwhile, has favored a more traditional view of the flagship school.
The new appointments become effective Feb. 1, but the Senate must approve them before they officially become regents. It’s unclear when that will happen. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, made clear Monday that he supports at least one new regent — his old colleague Eltife.
“In the Senate, Kevin built a reputation as someone who demanded accountability and transparency in Government,” Patrick said in a statement. “That philosophy will serve him well as a regent. I will be supportive of his nomination.”
Eltife was considered a moderate member of the Senate during his time in office. He has previously served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and earned his bachelor’s degree from UT-Austin. He retired at the end of the 2015 legislative session. He said in a statement that he felt honored to be chosen.
“I will work to earn the approval of the Texas Senate and, if confirmed, work hard for the citizens of this state to make sure tax dollars are spent wisely in a transparent manner and that we do everything we can to make higher education at the University of Texas affordable for Texans,” he said.
For the A&M System, Abbott reappointed Elaine Mendoza and Cliff Thomas, the current board chair. Midland oilman Tim Leach, meanwhile, is a new appointee.
For the Texas Tech University System, Abbott reappointed Dallas banker John Steinmetz, a prominent Republican donor. Abbott's other two appointees to the Tech System are Dallas investor J. Michael Lewis and former regent John B. Walker.
- The Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hall's lawsuit against McRaven earlier this month.
- Under Abbott's watch, the "fight for the soul of Texas universities" has faded.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University, the University of Texas System, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University and Red McCombs' family foundation, the McCombs Foundation, have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.