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With Senate moving quickly on UT regent confirmation, Hall asks for more time

One day after Gov. Greg Abbott appointed three new University of Texas System regents, the Senate has scheduled a confirmation hearing. One of the regents being replaced, Wallace Hall, is asking the Senate and Abbott to slow the process down.

University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall at a 2014 Texas Tribune event.

When Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday announced his new picks to replace Wallace Hall and Hall's two allies on the University of Texas System Board of Regents, a key question remained: How quickly will the Senate move to confirm the new guys?

If Tuesday is any indication, senators are making haste. One day after the appointees were announced, the Senate Nominations Committee scheduled its hearing on the three new UT System regents. The committee will meet Thursday morning in the Capitol.

That could be a bad sign for Hall, who is hoping the Texas Supreme Court will rule on his lawsuit against UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven before Hall's term ends. Oral arguments in that case happened Jan. 11. The Supreme Court is expediting the case but hasn't reached a decision. If Hall moves off the board before a ruling comes, his case will become moot.

On Tuesday, Hall urged the Senate and Abbott to slow down.

"Why rush, unless there is a preference to preempt the Supreme Court in a ruling Texans have waited years to obtain?" Hall said in a statement. "Governor Abbott can wait for the court and we can all live by the new standards it will set, or he can push the Senate to preempt the court and kill any opportunity for reform."

Hall is suing McRaven to win access to confidential student records that might shed more light on an admissions scandal at UT-Austin. In 2015, an investigator hired by the system found out that some students with powerful connections had been admitted into the UT System flagship even though they didn't appear to have the qualifications.

McRaven offered to give Hall redacted student records, saying the unredacted documents had private information that he couldn't give out. Hall's lawyers have argued that the denial set a dangerous precedent and makes it impossible to fulfill his oversight duties.

"It is clear that the Supreme Court has invested tremendous time and effort to consider the important issues in this case," Hall said. "It will be unfortunate if pressure by Governor Abbott preempts a ruling by the justices that could support pro-reform practices in our state institutions."

A spokesperson for Abbott didn't immediately return a request for comment. 

The three nominees are former state Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Republican from Tyler, 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.

If they make it through Thursday's hearing, they will still need the approval of the full Senate. But they will already be a bit ahead of the last round of regent appointees, who didn't have their hearings until late February of that year. They were confirmed in March. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already endorsed the selection of Eltife. Patrick said in a press release Monday that he would support his former colleague's nomination.

Disclosure: The University of Texas System, the University of Texas at Austin 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.

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