Texas politicians smarten up, ditch UT pres this time around


INTRUSIVE: Hunter Rawlings of the Association for American Universities intruded into a personnel decision for the University of Texas Board of Regents to accuse them of ‘political intrusion’ for trying to keep politicians from intruding on admissions decisions.

By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org

HOUSTON — If I remember my Schoolhouse Rock videos correctly, there are three branches of government, it being the legislative branch’s job to get “quite a thrill” with all its “passin’ laws and jugglin’ bills.”

Bossing people around, though, was definitely the function of the executive branch.

State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Van, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, seem to have gotten their education from a different cartoon.

The co-chairs of a legislative committee that recently pronounced University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall guilty of something — the exact charge is to be determined at a later date, preferably before the hanging — just sent a letter to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System “to reiterate for the third time” their request “that no adverse employment action be taken” against Bill Powers.

Powers is facing termination Thursday by the Board of Regents after reports by Watchdog.org laying out extensive evidence of corrupt admissions practices at the university.

The Board of Regents has the unique authority under the state constitution to decide who should run the University of Texas.

Yet they sent a letter to Paul Foster, chairman of the Board of Regents, on Sunday asserting that “compliance with this request is essential to ensure the integrity of the Committee’s work as the Committee may require additional testimony in the near future.”

Flynn and Alvarado have the constitutional authority to boss around their own staffs, enviable subpoena power, plus some limited authority over the conference rooms at the Capitol, and wide latitude to control the content of their official web pages.

They don’t, however, have any authority to send a “directive,” as the Texas Tribune keeps terming these letters, to the officers of the University of Texas System. The letter is especially ironic, considering the lawmakers accuse Hall of somehow “micromanaging” the university and exceeding his authority.

The only other member of the Legislature that I’ve seen come out in defense of Powers since the news of the firing broke is Democrat state Sen. Rodney Ellis, who wrote a letter Monday.

Hunter Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities, had the temerity to intrude into this debate to accuse the board and chancellor of intruding into … I’m sorry, I couldn’t follow his argument:

“I thought the State of Texas had in the past two years reached the outer limit of political intrusion into academic institutions,” he said, “but apparently not: now a board appointed by a lame duck Governor, and, astonishingly, a lame duck Chancellor, are threatening to oust a highly accomplished and popular president of Texas’ flagship university, and a national leader in higher education.”

So, somehow, the duly appointed authorities are guilty of “political intrusion,” but he’s just a friendly Iowan offering his thoughts.

Even Powers’ official cheerleading squads — the Texas Exes and the Hired Coalition for Everything is Awesome or some such thing — have been less obnoxious than usual. A blast email Sunday from the Texas Exes was little more than a rearguard action, calling for an orderly “succession plan for the university,” as preferable to an abrupt firing.

I know some smart people who think Powers’ defenders will be able to orchestrate the sort of support he’s had during the past two years when his job previously was threatened, but I doubt it.

I think the smart politicians know the game is up. The comments sections on news sites used to be filled with Powers defenders. Now they’re filled with people demanding accountability and linking to Watchdog articles.

Even Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, a Republican who kicked off the persecution of Hall but was smart enough to keep some distance from it, has started spinning his way out of it.

He told the Texas Tribune recently he had the votes to impeach Hall last year if he’d wanted to, but “I thought a more deliberate, thorough investigation was the proper way to handle it.”

Flynn and Alvarado are so deliberate and thorough, in fact, that they’re not even done with their investigation, eight months after they finished their investigation.

Contact Jon Cassidy at jon@watchdog.org or @jpcassidy000.