Miller resigns as chairman of UT regents

Banker and Perry loyalist Huffines seen as likely successor

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz and Robert Elder Jr.
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The chairman of the University of Texas System's governing board is stepping down.

The unexpected disclosure Tuesday by Charles Miller, chairman of the Board of Regents, follows his months-long effort to dramatically increase the board's oversight of the not-for-profit company that manages $16 billion in endowments and other assets for the UT System, the Texas A&M University System and other state institutions.

His campaign reached its zenith April 29, when the regents unanimously approved a plan to expand scrutiny of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., known as UTIMCO.

The question of UTIMCO oversight has produced sharp debate between Miller and some regents who serve on UTIMCO's board, but Miller said that such debate is to be expected and encouraged, and was not a factor in his decision to resign.

"It just seems to me like a good time to let somebody else take the reins," Miller said Tuesday.

Miller plans a formal announcement at the regents' meeting in Austin today.

He is leaving what is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious appointments in state government. The board oversees nine academic and six health institutions with an overall enrollment exceeding 177,000 students, more than 80,000 employees and an annual operating budget of $7.8 billion.

The UT System confers a third of the state's undergraduate degrees annually. Appointments to the Board of Regents traditionally fall to those who are wealthy and politically connected.

Miller, 70, said he was resigning because he had accomplished many of his goals and wanted to give Gov. Rick Perry time to appoint a new regent and the board time to elect a new chairman before the regents get into the thick of budget deliberations this summer and a regular legislative session in January.

He informed Perry some time ago that he was thinking of resigning and sent his resignation letter to the governor last week.

Under state law, Miller will continue to serve as a regent until he is replaced. He will remain chairman until the regents select a new one, possibly during a special meeting that could be scheduled for next month.

Speculation immediately centered on Regent James Huffines as the most likely person to become the next chairman.

Although the selection of a first among equals is up to the regents themselves, the reality is that the governor's whisper carries great weight. And no regent is a closer adviser and friend of Perry's than Huffines, a banking executive in Austin.

Huffines said he didn't want to discuss rumors and offered praise for Miller: "He has, in my opinion, been an excellent chairman."

Miller, a retired Houston money manager, brought wealth, political ties and a passion for education to the task when then-Gov. George W. Bush appointed him in 1999. He was elected chairman in 2001 and re-elected in 2003. His six-year term as a regent ends in February.

With his frizzy hair and rapid-fire speaking style, Miller brought a new level of intensity to the Board of Regents.

He had a hand in creating a charter school in East Austin, winning legislative permission for the regents to set tuition without lawmakers' approval, establishing broader accountability and audit functions, developing new collaborations among the academic and health institutions, and hiring Mark Yudof, former UT-Austin provost and law school dean, as the system's chancellor.

"He certainly provided the intellectual leadership and policy leadership for the last three years as board chairman, and even before that he was a force on the board," said Regent Woody Hunt. "It'll be a new era, that's for sure."

Hunt, who is also chairman of UTIMCO's board, said the investment company was the only significant issue on which he and Miller differed, with Hunt warning that too much oversight by the regents would be tantamount to eliminating the investment company and bringing its functions directly under the regents.

Hunt said he's unsure what effect Miller's resignation will have on the debate, which continues to simmer as Yudof and his staff work out the fine print of an oversight plan.

Miller, who lives in Houston, holds a math degree from UT-Austin and ran a money management firm before retiring.

He also has a contemplative side. He and his wife, Beth, used to own a 20-acre homestead in Santa Fe, N.M., that they turned into an ecological wonderland and modern-day salon that drew visitors ranging from actor Val Kilmer to the Dalai Lama.

Although his role on the Board of Regents is ending, Miller said, he would continue to advocate for higher education in a visible way.

"I do think this is one of the most important public policy issues in front of the state," he said.

rhaurwitz@statesman.com; 445-3604

relder@statesman.com; 445-3671