Pam Willeford, a former ambassador and former chairwoman of the state’s higher education agency, has accused four University of Texas System regents of an “all-out assault” against the Austin campus in coordination with Jeff Sandefer, a major donor and adviser to Gov. Rick Perry.
In what she described as a mass email Wednesday, Willeford singled out Regents Gene Powell, Wallace Hall Jr., Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich for criticism. The four “have focused their sights on UT-Austin and its leadership and have engaged in an all-out assault on the flagship,” she wrote, adding that one goal has been to micromanage the campus and oust its president, Bill Powers.
Willeford was once a strong supporter of Perry, who appointed all of the regents. She served as chairwoman of his inaugural committee in 2003 and was a member of the committee in 2011. The university has been at the center of a political tug-of-war for more two years that pits supporters of Powers, including a number of state legislators, against Perry and some regents.
In the email, Willeford said she was “appalled that … Sandefer would trash” her alma mater in a column this week in the Dallas Morning News and refer to Hall’s “tactics of intimidation” as “courageous.” Hall, who has challenged Powers on fundraising and demanded voluminous records from the campus, is facing an investigation by a Texas House panel that could recommend his impeachment.
She also said Perry’s emails, including one in which he said Powers is probably spreading “misinformation,” show that a systematic effort is under way to force out the school’s leader.
Perry’s office responded with a statement: “Gov. Perry and the regents he appoints remain committed to ensuring higher education is affordable, accessible and accountable to the people of Texas,” said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed.
Willeford was ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein under President George W. Bush and, before that, served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for eight years.