U. of Texas Regents Acquiesce to Legislators' Requests on Austin Campus

April 11, 2013

The University of Texas system's Board of Regents voted unanimously on Thursday to turn over to state lawmakers e-mails and other records they had considered withholding, and to withdraw demands for an outside investigation of a law foundation loosely tied to the flagship campus's president.

The moves, which followed a three-hour closed-door meeting, were welcomed by legislators who had accused the regents of micromanaging affairs at the university's flagship campus here and for pursuing a vendetta against the president, William C. Powers Jr.

State lawmakers have requested e-mails and other records pertaining to the regents' investigation into a now-defunct law-school compensation program that started when Mr. Powers was dean of law.

The program included forgivable loans some law professors received from a private foundation set up to support the law school.

The regents balked at the request, asking the state's attorney general, Greg Abbott, last week whether they were required to turn over all of the documents. The regents said that revealing some of the information could violate confidentiality agreements and be "potentially damaging to the ability of the system's governing board to fulfill properly its statutory and fiduciary duties."

Lawmakers reacted by accusing the board of trying to cover up information. They also asked the regents to use the attorney general's office rather than hire an outside law firm if they felt it was necessary to proceed with another investigation of the law-school compensation practices, which ended after an earlier investigation concluded they were inappropriate.

The regents voted on Thursday to open another investigation but agreed to ask the attorney general to handle it to save money.

Board members defended their actions and said the concessions were necessary to avoid the unwelcome distraction and negative attention the controversy had drawn.

"This is a great Board of Regents, and it is doing its job in an appropriate and diligent manner," said one of the regents, Printice L. Gary.

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group of former regents, top-level administrators, and alumni of the university, released a statement on Thursday commending the regents' actions.

"By putting an end to a costly and unnecessary outside investigation, and agreeing to turn over requested documents to the Legislature," the statement says, "they have publicly acknowledged their errors, and will hopefully move forward in a spirit of good faith and collaboration—rather than micromanagement and distrust."