Coup at the University of Texas

The horizon for the future of the University of Texas at Austin grew a shade darker yesterday. News broke that the UT System Board of Regents is set to appoint Greg Fenves, the current Executive Vice President and Provost at UT Austin, to replace his boss, Bill Powers, as President.

Powers and his administration have been under a cloud of controversy since news broke earlier this year that they abused the admissions system at UT to admit under-qualified applicants connected to rich and powerful individuals and politicians. More shocking so, a third party, independent investigation discovered that Powers and his Chief of Staff attempted to cover up the corruption, telling lies to reporters, UT System officials and the public about their involvement in the admissions system.

Despite this corruption and influence peddling, Powers’ second in command is possibly set to assume his role as President in June. It didn’t have to be this way.

In September 2014, a Presidential search committee was appointed to interview candidates to replace Powers as President. Powers was forced to announce his resignation after years of underperformance and the loss of trust in his administration. Perhaps the darkest moment took place when Powers threatened his boss ahead of a high stakes board of regents meeting.

Earlier this month, Andrew Hamilton, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, was widely considered the leading candidate to replace Powers. Hamilton was in competition with Fenves and UT Dallas President David Daniel. Hamilton and Daniel offered the prospect of an end to the corruption at UT Austin. Hamilton has dropped out of the search process.

However, just two weeks ago the Texas Senate confirmed two nominees to the UT Board of Regents with questionable records. Despite evasive answers and their direct involvement in the UT Austin scandals, Vice Chairman Steve Hicks and UT Austin trial lawyer David Beck were appointed to the Board with only State Sens. Konni Burton and Bob Hall (and, in the case of Beck, State Sen. Charles Schwertner) voting in opposition.

The powerful and corrupt interests surrounding the office of the president at UT Austin are attempting to execute a coup to remain in power and perpetuate the influence peddling. By Governor Abbott’s recent appointment of the tainted regents in the middle of the Presidential search, power was tipped in favor of darkness.

Absent swift and strong action by our House and Senate leadership, it now appears possible those investigations into the corruption at UT will cease, and that the political influence peddling will continue under Fenves, who was part of the admissions scandal.

Unlike Senators Birdwell and Taylor, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Nominations, who further enabled those who would perpetuate the influence peddling at UT by allowing the Governor to pack the Board of Regents, the Legislature should ferret out those within their own ranks who have unfairly benefitted from the secret admissions scheme.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel for Empower Texans. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony received his J.D. in 2012 from UT Law School. While in school, Tony served as Senior Vice Chairman for Young Conservatives of Texas and helped manage its legislative affairs. During the 83rd Texas Legislature he served as Chief of Staff for Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Tony resides in Austin and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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