Gov. Rick Perry, in emails that surfaced this week, said he suspected University of Texas President Bill Powers of spreading misinformation to win political support.
“Seems there is a contrived effort to stir up the LG,” Perry wrote in one email, referring to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He added, “My bet is Powers, et al are deep into misinformation!!!”
The governor sent that email to Regents Wallace Hall Jr., Brenda Pejovich and Gene Powell on Feb. 18, the same day that Dewhurst defended Powers in an emotional speech in the Senate.
The emails, obtained through an open-records request by the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, shed new light on the governor’s efforts to encourage some of his appointees to the UT System Board of Regents to press for reforms at the Austin flagship. In one email, he said overcoming “the status quo crowd” could take the campus “to heights never before attained.”
The emails, first reported by the Houston Chronicle, emerged just before the regents meet Wednesday and Thursday in Austin. Their agenda includes a closed-door performance review of presidents of the UT System’s 15 academic and health campuses, as well as election of new officers. Powers is away on a family vacation, according to a spokesman.
The UT president has had a strained relationship with some of his bosses for more than two years. One of his sharpest critics, Hall, is under investigation by a Texas House panel for possible impeachment.
The House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has advised the regents not to fire Powers while it investigates Hall. Some lawmakers have faulted the regent for requesting massive amounts of open-records materials from the Austin campus and for not listing various business-related lawsuits in his application to be a regent, an omission he has since corrected.
In a letter to the panel on Tuesday, a lawyer for Hall said the regent hid nothing in his application and deserves the right to question witnesses. The lawyer, Allan Van Fleet, said Hall had initially offered to provide more litigation detail to the governor’s appointments division but was not asked to do so. In any event, Hall disclosed a key case involving a bankruptcy filing and resulting litigation, the lawyer said.
Van Fleet suggested that the transparency panel exercise subpoena powers to learn which legislators used their positions to influence admissions decisions at UT-Austin. He wrote that he was disappointed to read news articles in which the panel’s co-chair, Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said Hall might not be allowed to call or question witnesses. Alvarado could not be reached for comment.
Gary Susswein, a UT-Austin spokesman, said the campus had no comment on the governor’s emails.
In a previously disclosed email, Perry told Regents Alex Cranberg, Paul Foster, Pejovich and Hall that efforts to reform the university were akin to World War II’s Battle of the Bulge.