However, the three nominees — Loya Insurance Group managing attorney and acting municipal judge for the city of McAllen Ernest Aliseda; Jeffrey Hildebrand, CEO of Houston’s Hilcorp Energy Co.; and current UT Regent Paul Foster who has been on the board since 2007 and is the current vice chairman — were unanimously approved by the Senate Nominations Committee on Tuesday, one day after being rigorously interrogated on the matter of their positions on the future tenure of UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. Mssrs. Aliseda, Hildebrand, and Foster still need two-thirds majority support in a vote of the full Texas Senate before they become official regents and can begin serving.
A UWire release reports that committee members vetted the nominees for four hours on Monday, reportedly the longest time spent considering nominees this session, focusing primarily on questions regarding the job security of UT President William Powers Jr. A contention that has been clouding these appointments centers on allegations that should they be approved, the three new regents would play an important role in determining the outcome of an ongoing power struggle in which the UT board and Mr. Powers have been at odds.
All three of the new nominees were appointed in February by Governor Rick Perry, who has reportedly clashed with Mr. Powers on tuition prices and other matters, for terms that would expire Feb. 1, 2019, and it’s been suggested that a plot is afoot to depose Mr. Powers from the university presidency, or to make conditions so unpleasant for him that he would resign voluntarily.
The Dallas Morning News’s Claire Cardona reports that Mr. Powers and Gov. Perry have “butted heads” over the Governor’s stance on tuition freezes, which Mr. Powers opposed in 2012 as a measure for UT-Austin, noting that Gov. Perry has championed affordable tuition and the rise of the $10,000 degree.
“I believe that any plan to fire Bill Powers, any plan to arrange an exit, graceful or otherwise, any plan to force him to resign, any plan to make him so miserable that he or his wife should decide he should resign, would be detrimental to the University of Texas, to our state,” Sen. Juddith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is cited commenting in the UWire report by Judy Serrano.
“I believe that any plan to fire Bill Powers, any plan to arrange an exit, graceful or otherwise, any plan to force him to resign, any plan to make him so miserable that he or his wife should decide he should resign, would be detrimental to the University of Texas, to our state,” said Sen. Zaffirini, who reportedly praised Powers and reiterated her belief that there is an ongoing effort by the regents to fire him or force him to resign. Sen. Zaffirini warned the regents against any such dealings, quoted by Ms. Serrano saying any such move would negatively impact UT’s reputation and reflect badly on the state of Texas, and querying the nominees: “Do you understand that Bill Powers, the president of UT-Austin, is not only respected and admired, but I would dare say loved by members of legislature?, and predicting that “If Bill Powers were fired, all hell would break loose.”
For their part, Ms. Serrano reports that the three nominees have denied any conspiracy to oust Mr. Powers. Mr. Hildebrand affirming that he’s an independent thinker and would not have accepted the nomination should it have come with a quid pro quo to vote in a certain way, and Mr. Foster saying that although Powers was stubborn and difficult to work with, the board has never had any conversations about forcing him out, although Foster did acknowledge the rift between Powers and the board, and that the regents had informally discussed the possibility of Powers voluntarily resigning, commenting in the release that “There have been discussions about him transitioning out at some point when he’s ready on his terms, not on anything else,” and adding “[T]here is no conspiracy effort [to fire Mr. Powers] or hidden agenda that I’m aware of.”
The report notes that all of the nominees have said they would work to fix the rift between Powers and the board if approved by the Senate, and that Nominations Committee chairman Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, urged the nominees to focus on the students and the UT System, and not on the scandal between the board and Mr. Powers.
Also approved by the Senate Committee on Tuesday were two doctors affiliated with the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio who Governor Perry appointed to the Texas Medical Board.
San Antonio psychiatrist Michael Ray Arambula M.D. operates a private practice and is an adjunct professor in the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Arambula is a member of the American and Texas Medical associations, American Psychiatric Association and the National Hispanic Medical Society, and also a member of the Federation of State Medical Boards, Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians, Bexar County Medical Society, American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, and the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics. Additionally, Dr. Arambula is a member and past president of the Bexar County Psychiatric Society, a board member of the University of Houston Law Center Health Law and Policy Institute Advisory Board, and a past board member of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments. He is reappointed for a term to expire April 13, 2019.
San Antonio neurosurgeon Dr. Karl Swann M.D. practices with Neurosurgical Associates of San Antonio P.A. Dr. Swann is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Center for Neurosurgical Sciences, and past chairman of the Methodist Hospital System Department of Neurosurgery in San Antonio. He is also a member of the American and Texas associations of Neurological Surgeons, the Texas Medical Association, the North American Spine Society, the Bexar County Medical Society and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. Dr. Swann is also appointed for a term to expire April, 13, 2019.
William Powers Jr., is the 28th president of The University of Texas at Austin, and before taking that office on February 1, 2006, served as dean of the university’s School of Law. A leading scholar in personal injury and products liability, Mr. Powers joined the UT law school faculty in 1977 and has taught torts, products liability, jurisprudence, legal process, civil procedure, conflict of laws and contracts. In 1997, the university named him to its Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He is also a University Distinguished Teaching Professor. and holds the Hines H. Baker and Thelma Kelley Baker Chair in Law.
As president of The University of Texas at Austin, Powers has identified four areas of emphasis:
• Building support for higher education throughout Texas
• Elevating the university’s academic standing to the best in the nation among public universities
• Recruiting a diverse student body and faculty
• Reforming the undergraduate core curriculum
Mr. Powers has worked as a legal consultant with the U.S. Congress, the Brazilian legislature and the Texas legislature. In 2001, he chaired a special investigation committee that examined the financial transactions of Enron Corp. The resulting report, which has come to be known as the “Powers Report,” and his subsequent testimony before Congress, gained Powers national recognition.
President Powers generated some controversy last winter by refusing to sign an open letter circulated by a group called College Presidents for Gun Safety reacting to the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, seeking to encourage lawmakers to place heavier restrictions on firearms.
However, the Daily Texan’s Joshua Fechter reports that Mr. Powers co-authored a separate letter published Jan. 2, 2013, with 10 other university presidents who serve on the executive committee of the Association of American Universities urging President Barack Obama and Congress to take action to prevent gun violence in the U.S. by focusing on three areas: gun control, care for the mentally ill and media violence, and that a spokesperson has spokesperson said Powers will not support measures that would allow concealed firearms on campus.