The University of Texas System Board of Regents met Wednesday under the shadow of efforts in the Legislature to remove a regent who some lawmakers accuse of engaging in a "witch hunt" against popular Austin campus President Bill Powers.
The board was scheduled to meet for about three hours to discuss plans for a new state university in south Texas and get updates from the recent legislative sessions. But any discussion of the House impeachment investigation launched against regent Wallace Hall of Dallas was expected to take place behind closed doors when the board retreated into executive session.
Board Chairman Gene Powell, who has not publicly commented on the investigation, didn't mention the probe in his brief welcoming remarks that noted newly-confirmed regents Ernest Aliseda of McAllen and Jeff Hildebrand of Houston.
"We look forward to working with you," Powell told Aliseda. Hildebrand did not attend because of a previously scheduled conflict.
After the meeting, Powell declined comment on the Hall impeachment investigation but said it wouldn't hurt the board's ability to oversee its nine campuses and six medical institutions.
Aliseda and Hildebrand were confirmed in May after months of squabbling between lawmakers and regents, notably Hall, over the performance of Powers at the flagship campus of the University of Texas at Austin.
Aliseda, Hildebrand and regents vice chairman Paul Foster of El Paso, who was reappointed by Gov. Rick Perry, were confirmed with a warning from several senators that "all hell would break loose" if there was an attempt to fire Powers.
The president of the 50,000-student campus has fought with the board over issues such as tuition rates, the roles of teaching and research and graduation rates for two years. Powers, who has held the job since 2006, was believed to have a thin majority of support among the previous board members.
Powers attended the meeting, sitting a few feet behind Hall, and made sure to shake hands with five state lawmakers at the meeting when called to the podium to announce the naming of a new Latin American law center after former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Hall has not commented on the House investigation. Through a spokesman, Powers also declined comment.
State House members, notably Rep. Jim Pitts, the Republican chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, have questioned Hall's continued use of massive open records requests for documents searching for information about Powers, other school officials and legislators.
Pitts has accused Hall of engaging in a "witch hunt" against Powers. Hall also failed to disclose his involvement in several lawsuits when he filled out a questionnaire prior to his Senate Confirmation.
The House Transparency Committee is authorized to investigate allegations of misconduct and can propose articles of impeachment. The panel held a brief organizational meeting Wednesday and was expected to meet again early next week.
The Legislature also tried to limit regents' power to fire campus presidents, but that bill was vetoed by Perry.