Not much time has passed since Governor Greg Abbott announced his first series of appointments to the University of Texas Board of Regents and more and more information is coming to light on his two new additions, Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck. The information thus far suggests that Abbott’s advisors have failed to properly vet his higher education nominees and that both Tucker and Beck are unqualified to serve on the Board of Regents.
Sara Martinez Tucker
Tucker, who once served as U.S. Under Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, is currently the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit group that assists in distributing open-source materials for the Common Core program in grades 3–12. Because the materials are provided for free, they can be used in states like Texas, which explicitly banned Common Core from being purchased as part of school curricula during the 83rd legislative session. In a 2014 U.S. News article titled “It’s Time to Change the Common Core Debate,” Tucker praised Common Core, stating, “the discussion should be about how the standards will be implemented, not if they will be.”
Regrettably, Tucker’s bad ideas about federalizing education are not limited to K–12. During her time in the Department of Education, Tucker was appointed to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education. The Commission praised the efforts of No Child Left Behind and suggested implementing the “effective principles” of the standardized testing program in higher education. This would have included the creation of a national database of college students in order to track progress in their learning.
Tucker is not just a promoter of bad policies. She was also a party to a scandal involving student loan providers when she served in the Department of Education. One of Tucker’s first moves as Under Secretary of Education was to forgive Nelnet, a student-loan company, for overcharging the government. Auditors found the company overcharged the government approximately $278 million. However, Tucker allowed Nelnet to keep the $278 million and left taxpayers footing the bill. Tucker also had a long history of interactions with loan companies before joining the bureaucracy. She solicited over $2 million in donations from banks like the government-run student loan program Sallie Mae during her time as head of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Nelnet even donated $50,000 to the fund at one point in time.
Records indicate that Sara Martinez Tucker only recently moved to Texas, registering to vote in February 2014. She has spent most of her adult life in San Francisco, California, and Washington, D.C. Given her track record, there is no reason that Texans should be comfortable with her as a trustee of our state’s flagship university.
David Beck has an even worse record of mismanagement. Beck served as the President of the UT Law School Foundation during the era in which a scandal erupted involving off-the-books payments from the Foundation to UT President Bill Powers, Law School Dean Larry Sager, and certain selected faculty. The scandal resulted in Sager’s abrupt resignation in 2011, and investigators — including current members of the Board of Regents — have been attempting to piece together what happened since.
Eventually, the Office of the Attorney General investigated the scandal. On December 31, 2014, the AG released a report which named David Beck as the person who designed and proposed the “deferred compensation plan,” in which funds were transferred from the Foundation to UT President Bill Powers. Beck also was in charge of the Foundation when they developed a “forgivable loan” program that ended up being abused under Beck’s watch by Dean Sager.
Broken from the start, the loan program was developed in conjunction with the Jenkins & Gilchrist law firm, which was under investigation at the time by the IRS for setting up illegal tax shelters for its clients. The AG’s report acknowledges that Foundation officers were advised to set up the loan program in a particular manner to circumvent the law. Established as agreements directly from the Foundation to employees of the law school, Beck and the Foundation avoided involving the University directly in the agreements because they were advised that such an arrangement would have violated University policy and state law.
While David Beck typically gives to local and state judges and has donated to Governor Greg Abbott and other Republicans, he has a long history of supporting liberal candidates. Beck gave thousands of dollars to Mayor Bill White during his run for Governor in 2010. He has also given to liberal Senators Rodney Ellis and Judith Zaffirini, who herself has been associated with the UT scandals.
David Beck failed to properly oversee the operation of the UT Law Foundation and devised secretive payola schemes that resulted in a scandal that has tarnished the Law School. Entrusting him with the responsibilities of a regent following a record of gross mismanagement would be a foolish decision.
Before they can serve as regents, both Beck and Tucker must be confirmed by the Texas Senate. We hope senators will ask tough questions of the nominees and of Governor Abbott – in particular how his advisors could have missed such glaring mismanagement in these nominees’ pasts. If Beck and Tucker’s appointments to the Board of Regents are confirmed, their histories foreshadow a dark future for the University of Texas.