Personal Problems at Heart of TX Gov Perry's Attempt to Oust University Head

The Texas House Select Transparency in State Agency Operations Committee met this week to determine if any wrongdoing was made by University of Texas (UT) Regent Wallace Hall, who has been making unprecedented open records requests from the office of the UT president. This includes over 1,200 records requests, and insisting that these records be submitted without redactions of confidential information, according to testimony heard yesterday.

In case one thing is not clear, the UT Board of Regents are trying to fire President Bill Powers. President Powers - who just this week was named chairman of the Association of American Universities and secured an unprecedented $50 million dollar gift from the Moody Foundation for the College of Communications - is at risk of losing his job because of Perry-appointed UT Regents.

So why would the UT Board of Regents be interested in ousting such a successful president, particularly when the UT Board of Regents is also tasked with overseeing the entire University of Texas System, which is a fifteen campus system spread across the entire state?

The answer is Rick Perry. Governor Perry has sparred with President Powers since he was Dean of the UT Law School in 2000. Governor Perry appoints each member on the nine-member UT Board of Regents.

President Powers has been a dynamic leader and advocate for the University of Texas at Austin and has made it his stated goal that he wants the University of Texas to be the best public research university in the country. Rick Perry, on the other hand, has made a pitch that has somewhat fallen flat, for Texas Universities to try to create a 10,000 dollar college degree.

The ramifications of President Powers being fired by the UT System Board of Regents would be widespread and catastrophic. The ripple effects would be lasting and damaging, demonstrating that the caliber and competitiveness of the state's top research univerisity is subject to the political whims of the most conservative governor in the country.

Orangebloods.com - a blog usually only dedicated to explaining the politics of the UT athletic system - sees the ramifications within the UT athletics department and beyond. Chip Brown writes:

More importantly, however, there still appears to be an active drive from the four regents who oppose Powers - all appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, Powers' long-time adversary - to get Powers thrown out as president.

In talking with several people close to this situation, Powers has made it clear he and he alone will make the call on the new athletic director. He said so publicly on Tuesday at DeLoss Dodds' retirement press conference.

And those comments were perceived as a shot across the bow of regents who want Powers out. Those regents, I'm told, want their influence on such decisions to be heard or a new president at Texas to make those decisions.

Perry has been at odds with Powers for more than a year over several differences, including the direction of higher education at UT. There have been several runs by Powers' four nemesis regents to take him out. The most recent came last August, when regent Wallace Hall asked for a vote by the entire regents board to boot Powers. It fell short of the five votes necessary.

Despite a new law aimed at keeping the peace between Powers and the four regents who oppose him, I'm told, if those four regents can find one more vote, Powers will be out.

And I'm told those four regents are actively recruiting that fifth vote right now.

There was a law passed this year that ordered a legislative committee to study where the authority of regents begin and end.

The committee asked regents across the state not to take make any sweeping decisions until the committee has finished its work. No deadline has been stated for that work to be completed.

But the four regents who oppose Powers appear to be actively courting a fifth vote, no matter what the new law or legislative committee says.

So now the question for Powers is if he'll try to expedite the naming of a new athletic director on his own simply to beat any chance Powers' nemesis regents can find that fifth vote to boot him out?

There is so much political infighting going on right now as it pertains to the regents, Powers and where the athletic department is going, I'm not sure anyone truly understands the dynamics, including all involved.

That's why anyone who thinks they know the answers right now about the next athletic director or football coach may not know anything.

Why? Because the entire power structure of the university, and thus the hiring of these key figures, could completely change in an instant.

And how would a new athletic director feel about coming into a work environment in which his boss (Powers) could be gone in an instant?

Texas regents Alex Cranberg and Wallace Hall have been identified as two of the Perry regents working to oust Powers.

Hall, who was identified in a recent Associated Press story (along with former UT regent Tom Hicks) as having spoken to the agent of Alabama coach Nick Saban in January, is expected to go through impeachment hearings over potential abuses of authority before the end of the year.

Not only are the Regents undermining the President in terms of requesting thousands of records and possibly breaking federal laws, they are also undermining him in terms of picking a new athletic director, as well as jeopardizing a settlement with a lawsuit from the fired track and field coach Bev Kearney.

If President Powers is fired, Perry's vision of of this 10,000 dollar degree program might come to the University of Texas. I can almost hear the wooden chairs of the tenure-track professors creak as they push out from under their desks. Hopefully a resolution will be made soon. The House Committee is expected to meet again sometime before Thanksgiving.  

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