Nine reasons to worry about UT's future

By: David Peterson and Forrest Wilder, Columnists
Daily Texan
March 18, 2002

The UT Board of Regents has ultimate control over the entire UT System. The decisions they make carry the force of statutes under Texas state law. They appoint the chancellor, vice chancellors and university presidents, who are accountable to them and can be recalled at any time. The regents themselves are unelected and unaccountable to the students, staff, faculty or the citizens of Texas. Regents are appointed by the governor for terms of six years, often in exchange for massive political contributions.

The resumes of current regents are short on qualifications to manage higher education, but very long on experience in the world of personal gain. Most of them are millionaires - would-be governor Antonio "Tony" Sanchez tops the list with an estimated $600 million oil, gas and banking fortune. Six of the current regents contributed between $7,000 and $106,000 to George W. Bush's gubernatorial campaigns. Several former regents were among his highest contributors.

While Texas politics thrives on the patronage system, a seat on the Board of Regents stands out as the state's most expensive and most coveted political appointment. Three regents sit on the board of the secretive and scandal-ridden University of Texas Investment Management Company, which manages $14 billion in state funds.

Past regents have gone on to high political positions like U.S. secretary of commerce (Don Evans), others use their appointment as political capital when running for office (Tony Sanchez), still others claim that being a regent qualifies them as education experts when pushing a right-wing and pro-business education agenda (Charles Miller).

These nine business people and their appointees run the UT System like a giant corporation. Thus Dr. Faulkner's reference to students as "consumers of university services." When business people run the University, students become consumers who are beholden to market demands. Quality of education no longer matters, students no longer matter, and the "public" in public education becomes more of an afterthought, or a requisite to get a modicum of state funds and retain the title of "state university." Public higher education becomes a tool for money-makers and political climbers.

The regents act as a bloc, a world apart from the people they control. The worst of these nine business leaders are redefining public education in corporate terms, while the rest are using the most important educational position in the state for personal gain.

It's unlikely that you'll ever meet these people face-to-face, but they sit atop a vast hierarchy that has you at the bottom. They casually approve huge "infrastructure fees" - pocket change to millionaires like themselves.

 

Charles Miller

A Houston investment consultant appointed by Bush, he's the chairman of the Board of Regents. He also chairs several other organizations: Meridian Advisors, Ltd. and the National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-wing think tank based in Dallas.

He sits on the board of JP Morgan Chase Houston. He raised over $100,000 for Bush's presidential campaign and gave $85,000 to Gov. Perry. Lest we think that his financial and political activities would leave no time for education, he has worked with Ken Lay and the Governor's Business Council in lobbying for charter schools.

His pet project is standardized testing. He has pushed for SAT-type testing on UT System students, seemingly unaware that a college education can't be measured by multiple-choice standardized tests. His pilot program starts in the fall for liberal arts and natural sciences students.

Miller strongly opposes a student regent, saying that a student couldn't handle the burden.

 

Patrick Oxford

Oxford proudly announced that he raised $130,000 for the Bush campaign. He was defensive when confronted about it. Apparently, he also sees no problem with buying appointments.

 

A.W. "Dub" Riter Jr.

A Bush appointee and member of the UTIMCO board, Riter is a lifetime banker and 49 percent partner in Pinstripe Investments. He felt so badly about only giving Bush $7,000 for his gubernatorial races that he raised over $100,000 for Bush's presidential campaign. He also gave $5,000 to the Bush recount fund. Another millionaire good ol' boy, he sits with several other regents on the Governor's Business Council. He offers no experience in higher education.

 

Judith Craven, M.D.

She's the only former UT employee to serve on the Board of Regents -ever. To make sure no one got the wrong idea, Gov. Perry selected yet another member of the corporate elite.

Craven sits on the boards of A.H. Belo, Sysco, Compaq, Luby's and Valic.

 

Rita Clements

Former Gov. Bill Clements' wife was recently reappointed to a second six-year term by Gov. Perry, to whom she gave $130,000. She contributed $41,106 to Bush's campaigns for governor. Bush gladly appointed her for her first term.

She's a member of the Governor's Business Council and a director for Team Bank, Bank One, Texas, La Quinta Motor Inns and Dr Pepper. She is also a UTIMCO board member.

 

Woody L. Hunt

As another regent on the UTIMCO board, Hunt has substantial control over billions in state funds. This is somewhat scary since his construction company was sued by the federal government for $45 million dollars.

The government said that more than half of the housing units he built at Ellsworth Air Force Base were "uninhabitable." They cited violations of "fire safety rules, flawed heating systems and improper design â?| causing units to break apart in high winds." He donated $39,000 to Bush for governor and $91,000 to Perry.

 

Antonio "Tony" Sanchez Jr.

Sanchez was appointed by Bush and is his second largest all-time contributor. Now Sanchez is using his position as regent to get himself elected as governor. He shamelessly uses the UT Tower in his television ads, though he is most noted for his poor attendance at regents' meetings. Most recently, he courted student votes by nominally opposing the fee increase, an obvious political move.

 

Cyndi Taylor Krier

In 1992, Krier was elected as the first woman and first Republican Bexar County Judge. During the Florida election fiasco, Krier personally escorted a team of hand-picked lawyers to Florida to ensure that the manual recounts favored Bush. Appointed by Perry, she gave him $5,500. She's the only regent who bothered to attend the student fee hearings in January, though she was unswayed by student opposition.

 

Robert A. Estrada

Appointed by Perry, UT has yet to provide information on him. As a past director of Sallie Mae, the largest federally backed student loan provider, he's got a few friends that will make money off of increased fees and broke students at the University.

Sallie Mae is a corporation chartered by the U.S. Congress. It's on the cutting edge of privatization, wheeling and dealing in $72 billion in student loans and making a profit off struggling students.

Peterson is a Spanish senior, and Wilder is an English senior.