With his latest nominations to the University of Texas Board of Regents, Gov. Greg Abbott is making an open attack on reform in higher education.
On Monday, Abbott announced he would be asking the Texas Senate to replace incumbent regents Alex Cranberg, Brenda Pejovich, and Wallace Hall with new appointees. The move cannot be interpreted as anything other than an attempt to stifle the regents before they can expose more of the admissions scandal that has already implicated prominent members of the university administration and the Texas Legislature.
Abbott’s nomination of three replacement regents, and their fast-track through the Texas Senate, is designed to halt the efforts of Wallace Hall, the whistleblower whose exposés have already led to the ousting of UT President Bill Powers and prompted some lawmakers to retire from the Legislature.
Though Hall has already revealed much of the scandal, the university administration has stonewalled him from bringing the rest of it to light by denying him access to an unredacted version of a investigative report paid for by university funds. Hall was forced to file a lawsuit to obtain the records. A decision on the case is pending from the Texas Supreme Court.
However, if Hall’s replacement is confirmed before the ruling is issued, he may lose standing and find his case dismissed.
In a statement Tuesday, Hall challenged Abbott on his move to hastily replace him and prevent his case from being adjudicated.
“Why rush, unless there is a preference to preempt the Supreme Court in a ruling Texans have waited years to obtain?” Hall asked. “Governor Abbott can wait for the court and we can all live by the new standards it will set, or he can push the Senate to preempt the court and kill any opportunity for reform.”
The governor’s office has yet to comment on Hall’s statement.
While Abbott’s refusal to re-nominate Hall – and deprive him of a legal victory – speaks volumes alone, his refusal to re-nominate either of the other reform-minded regents is even worse. Cranberg and Pejovich both supported Hall’s efforts to reveal university corruption and fought against liberal policies.
As Texas Watchdog has reported, “The three names Abbott put forward this week as potential members of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System all have ties, either direct or indirect, to the corrupt admissions practices that cost former UT President Bill Powers his job.”
Rather than support transparency, Abbott has chosen to feed the cancer that has infected UT by nominating former State Sen. Kevin Eltife (R–Tyler) and two other individuals, Janiece Longoria and Rad Weaver, to replace them.
Eltife was a known conspirator in the UT admissions scandal who abused the power of his office and colluded with the UT administration to bypass admissions process to secure entry for under-qualified students. After Hall uncovered his efforts, Eltife led the Senate defense of the scandal and then-President Bill Powers.
But the problems with Eltife don’t end at public corruption. His public policy positions should also concern anyone who agrees with the Texas Republican Party Platform or the publicly espoused positions of Gov. Greg Abbott.
During his time in the Texas Senate, Eltife was also an outspoken advocate for keeping in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. He also refused to combat sanctuary cities. Just last session, Eltife joined with other liberal Republicans and Democrats to defeat those measures in the Texas Senate, telling the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal he was opposed to eliminating sanctuary cities and opposed to repealing the in-state tuition law.
Meanwhile, Abbott’s other nominees offer similar causes for concern.
Longoria is a member of the UT Law School Foundation which ran an off-the-books “forgivable loan” program that paid then-Dean Bill Powers at least $600,000. In exchange, Powers secured the admission of under-qualified students into the law school.
Weaver is little more than a proxy for Red McCombs, a big-time university booster and political donor who has been all but implicated in the scandal as well.
Last session, despite calls for caution, the Texas Senate gave Abbott the benefit of the doubt on his nominees and confirmed them despite serious reservations, trusting that Abbott would not allow them to conceal the financial malfeasance and admissions conspiracy.
Sadly, conservatives’ misgivings quickly became reality as the trio of 2015 appointees proceeded to ardently oppose any effort to end corrupt practices at the university or unmask those who benefited from them.