Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has been on a roll recently. At the beginning of this year, he annihilated his competition in an attempted palace coup for control of his gavel. By a 127-11 margin, Straus brought together all the Democrats and a healthy majority of his party, the Republicans. Only the most zealous, obtuse and obstreperous Tea Party-backed rabble rousers opposed his bipartisan mandate to rule over the House. For the first month of the session, Straus has focused on neutralizing not only the right-wing's representatives, but their key policy points as well. 

This has stood in sharp contrast to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, elected last year in a contentious Republican primary predominantly because of those same ultra-conservatives. Patrick, in his dual capacity as the President of the Texas Senate, has pushed for increasingly out-of-touch right-wing pipe dreams in his brief time in office. These include allowing open carrying of licensed handguns and allowing handguns on college campuses, as well as rescinding the 2001 Texas Dream Act, which allows for undocumented students to be granted in-state tuition at public universities, including this one. In doing so, Straus has not only stood up to both Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, but also the platform of the Texas Republican Party.  

Straus has always stuck out as a moderate on many issues, but he has only recently begun to show his true colors. He first elected in 2009, deposing the previous Speaker, Tom Craddick, R-Midland, by cobbling together a bare-boned coalition of the most moderate Republicans and Democrats. Thereafter, Straus embarked on a noble experiment: he let the House members run the House. A diverse selection of legislation, some of which I definitely found myself opposed to, came to the floor and was passed by a majority of the members. In the three speaker's elections that have followed, Straus has been re-elected unanimously or nearly-unanimously.  

But the right-wing has never been fully comfortable with Straus. Part of this has to do with his comfort working across the aisle with the Democrats. Part of it has to do with his religion: Straus is the first Jewish major officeholder in Texas. In 2010, when a few high profile contenders first flirted with short-lived candidacies to depose Straus, the crux of their complaints chiefly revolved around the need for Texas to be lead by a "Christian conservative." A few weeks ago, when I was in a Capitol elevator, I overheard two lobbyists for a gun rights organization make anti-Semitic remarks about Straus. 

Perhaps Straus has gotten tired of attempting to mollify enemies who intrinsically loathe him, perhaps from a position of bigotry, and is thus becoming more forceful in his assertions. In 2011, Straus was notably more hesitant on taking a position on campus carry, when pressed by the Texas Tribune. Recently, however, he was far less ambiguous. 

"Personally, I would caution anyone to ignore [UT Chancellor William] McRaven when you’re talking about arms and ammunition," Straus said in recent comments at the Texas Politics Project on campus. McRaven, of course, recently came down forcefully against the campus carry proposal, arguing it would makes campuses "less safe." 

Straus was similarly forceful in his opposition to repealing the Dream Act.  

"These are young people who have played by the rules, who've qualified for admission at our colleges, who've gone to our public schools and, personally, I can think of a lot worse things these people can be doing with their lives than pursuing higher education and becoming engaged citizens in our economy and paying taxes," Straus said in the same interview.  

Now, if Straus' history at the helm of the lower house is any indication, the body may very well still pass these right-wing bills, given Straus' preference to be a hands-off leader. But his willingness to come out for pragmatic and centrist causes, in a state whose leadership is all racing as far as they can to the extreme right, is a breath of fresh air.

Horwitz is the Senior Associate Editor

Campus carry, in-state tuition for undocumented students and tuition regulation were major points of focus during an on-campus interview with House Speaker Joe Straus.

At the talk, Straus stressed higher education issues, such as campus carry, in-state tuition for immigrants and tuition regulation.

Students questioned Straus on his opinions related to higher education issues. 

“I think it’s a great way to make him more relatable to UT students,” said Agnes Matula, advertising sophomore and intern for Rep. Susan King (R-Abilene). On Jan. 26, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress) filed “campus carry” bills, which, if passed, would allow licensed concealed hand gun carriers to bring their guns with them on campus grounds and into University buildings.

Chancellor William McRaven and President William Powers Jr. expressed strong opposition to the policy. Straus, while not explicitly stating his current thoughts on the policy, said he would encourage people to listen to McRaven’s thoughts on
the legislation.

“Personally, I would caution anyone to ignore Chancellor McRaven when you’re talking about arms and ammunition,” Straus said.

Bridget Guien, communications director for College Republicans and economics freshman, said College Republicans are in favor of campus carry.

“The College Republicans support concealed carry on campus,” Guein said in an email. “We believe it can be beneficial to the safety of UT’s students since it can provide a form of defense.”

There has been debate between legislators about whether immigrant students should receive in-state tuition at public universities. The policy of in-state tuition for undocumented students began in 2001 when former Gov. Perry passed HB1403 — the Texas Dream Act. 

Straus said he stands by Perry’s act.

“These are young people who have played by the rules, qualified for admission to our public schools, and personally, I can think of a lot of worse things people can do with their lives,” Straus said.

Straus also expressed support for university control of tuition, which was deregulated in 2003. Straus said the rising prices of tuition are important to address, but he has not seen a decrease in the demand of education since tuition deregulation.

“For me, specifically, deregulating tuition at a time when the state was not making an investment in higher education made a lot of sense,” Straus said.

Straus said the State should still express interest in higher education by supporting research and the creation of more tier-one institutions.

Although Michelle Willoughby, University Democrats president and government junior, said she mostly agreed with Straus’ stance on campus carry and the Dream Act, she does not agree with his views on tuition. She said students should receive more aid from the state for their public university educations.  

“I think tuition should be regulated — it should be lower and the Legislature should chip in more,” Willoughby said.

Willoughby said she appreciates Straus’ moderate stances and willingness to compromise on policy between parties.

“I think we need more legislators like Straus that are willing to ignore the ‘R’s and ‘D’s at the ends of the names and focus on the needs of Texans, the needs of students and the needs of taxpayers,” Willoughby said.

Guien of College Republicans said she thinks Straus’ visit to UT will help students become more engaged in state politics.

“Since he is such a prominent member of the Texas government, students will be more inclined to come and become more interested in politics,” Guien said in an email. 

Straus' committee picks show his continued pragmatism

The Texas Legislature is an ironic place. Historically, U.S. governments have been set up that are composed of a pragmatic upper house (Senate) and a radical lower house (House of Representatives).  

In Texas, the opposite is true. Nowhere has that become clearer than in the way the leaders of the two respective chambers — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the Senate and Speaker Joe Straus in the House — have selected the composition and heads of pertinent committees, the lifeblood of legislatures in the modern era. 

Patrick, a bombastic right-wing activist elected last year, quickly made good on his promise to slash the number of committees and boot most all of the Democratic chairs from power. Straus, on the other hand, elected by the House's members in bipartisan fashion, largely retained the pervasiveness of Democratic influence in the lower house. Furthermore, for those Republicans selected to lead committees, many moderates received the most plum assignments

State Representative John Zerwas, R-Richmond, for example, was chosen to lead the House Higher Education Committee. As most media sources quickly noted, Zerwas has recently been a supporter of the Texas Dream Act, which grants in-state tuition at state universities such as this one to undocumented immigrants. State Representative John Otto, R-Dayton, meanwhile, was selected as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which is tasked with the enviable position of writing the state's budget. In a recent analysis by Rice University, Otto was noted as the fifth most liberal Republican in the legislature while Zerwas was rated the third . 

Roughly a third of committees will be headed by Democrats, mirroring the proportion of the House itself occupied by the minority party. Most of these committees are rather insignificant, but others are invaluable. The transportation committee will be chaired by state Representative Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. State Representative Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the second-longest serving member of the legislature, will continue at the helm of Local & Consent Calendars, one of the most powerful committees under the dome. 

The most zealous conservatives, specifically the ones who voted against Straus last month for speaker, were unsurprisingly punished. Special Purposes Districts Committee immediately comes to mind. 

In continuing his pragmatic and bipartisan approach to House administration, Straus has sent a message back to Patrick: The House will continue being a bastion of real government solutions to problems and not just a breeding ground for right-wing pipe dreams, no matter what the Senate descends into.  

Horwitz is the Senior Associate Editor.

Texas lawmakers returned to work Tuesday to commence the 84th legislative session and take their oaths of office. Amid the usual pomp and circumstance of opening day ceremonies, the House floor voted on the speakership for the first time since 1975.

Second-term Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco) challenged incumbent Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who easily secured a fourth term with a 127-19 vote. In his acceptance speech, Straus reminded representatives of their responsibility to their constituents.

“What happens on this floor isn’t about any single member, myself included,” Straus said. “This house is about something that’s bigger than all of us. It’s about a fair process that points us to a common ground.”

Straus is one of the few lawmakers returning to a top Texas political post since the largest shake-up election in a generation last November. Energized by a slew of landslide wins, Republicans have vowed to address issues such as border security, gun rights and education during the 140-day session.

In his acceptance speech, Straus gave his vote of confidence to the new Republican leadership, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and incoming Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick.

“They lead a new generation of statewide officials a group that is ready to move this state forward with energy and new ideas,” Straus said.

Abbott will be sworn in Jan. 20, along with Patrick, who defeated incumbent David Dewhurst in last year's Republican primary.

The House will reconvene Wednesday morning, and the Senate will join the House on Thursday for a joint session.  

Straus' inevitable re-election good for Texas

When all was said and done, the 2014 election — both the Republican primary and the general election — was a godsend for conservatives in the state of Texas. Greg Abbott, the furiously anti-Obama attorney general, cruised to election as governor and Dan Patrick, a right-wing shock jock known for evocative and incendiary tirades, is slated to take the helm of the state senate as lieutenant governor. But, in one of the first official acts of 2015 in the political world, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, an independent-minded and pragmatic moderate, looks slated to win re-election by a landslide.

Straus was first elected in 2009, propped up by a bare boned coalition of the most moderate Republicans as well as the minority Democratic caucus. This original sin, so to speak, of the new speaker enraged Tea Party groups. But Straus did a novel thing as speaker: he left the administration of the chamber to the members and not his personal caprices and ideology. While previous speakers, Democrat and Republican, used the house as their personal soapboxes, Straus yielded to majoritarian desires. Oftentimes, in the deeply conservative chamber, this meant right-wing pipe dreams such as a Voter ID Act and draconian anti-abortion restrictions. But left to his own devices, Straus is much less interested in social issues. He prefers pragmatic and policy-minded solutions to the state's transportation, health and other budgetary woes.

State Representative Scott Turner, R-Frisco, a bombastic Tea Party freshman being almost exclusively underwritten by right-wing moneyed interest such as Michael Quinn Sullivan, is challenging Straus for the gavel. But his campaign, in which he promises a record vote, has been largely limited to solely the most obstreperous or extreme of legislators. Straus, on the other hand, has garnered more than 70 Republican votes and is the odds on favorite of the Democratic caucus of more than 50 representatives.

Thus, while the Senate may be taking a step to the right, the House is staying comfortably in the middle. Let's hope it lasts.

Horwitz is an associate editor.

Abbott is the next Governor. How will he lead?

This January, the state of Texas will inaugurate a new Governor for the first time since I was in the first grade. To put that in perspective, the current freshmen had not started school yet and some kids currently in high school had yet to be born. On Tuesday night, we found out that Texans had chosen — rather decisively — the incumbent Attorney General, Greg Abbott, to be that individual, our state's 48th Governor.

Governor-elect Abbott received a mandate from Texans; to argue otherwise is just plain silly. He won Tuesday's election by a higher margin than Governor Rick Perry ever won by, in all three of his gubernatorial races. Abbott won more total votes than any other person who has ever run for governor. Accordingly, even though voter turnout was down, it is just naïve to claim the new governor will be riding into office with anything short of the backing of a majority of Texans.

Concurrent with Abbott's election as governor was Dan Patrick's election as lieutenant governor, a powerful position with almost despotic powers over the state Senate. Lieutenant governor-elect Patrick, a bombastic and tea party state senator, has already suggested he would bring up a plethora of conservative pipe dreams in the upcoming session, including a controversial proposal to allow students at public universities to bring their concealed handguns onto campus. While a Senate run by Patrick and packed with his friends would likely pass these measures, they could easily find themselves slowed in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Joe Straus, a comparatively moderate Republican, still reigns supreme.

Straus, left to his own devices, is not much for divisive social issues. A policy wonk and a pragmatist, he would instead focus on the real issues facing the state such as education and infrastructure. The type that requires the real dedication and seriousness that demagogues like Patrick loathe. Abbott is somewhere in the middle of those two philosophies.

This is why Abbott's leadership style will be so very important. If there is anything that Straus' record has shown us, it is that he will fold like a card table when pressured by the governor. When Perry pushed the omnibus anti-abortion legislation in the summer of 2013, Straus heralded it through the chamber to passage with alacrity. Left to his own devices, he would not wade into those uneasy waters, but he is more than willing to be pushed in.

Brian Sweany at Texas Monthly inquired on Wednesday as to how Abbott would lead once in office. Whether he would attempt to personally run the state like the incumbent or be more content to lurk in the shadows like predecessors. Those are important questions, but I think the most important one is if he will be more amenable to the ideology-based concerns of his Lieutenant Governor, or the pragmatism-based ones of his speaker of the House.

I hope it is the latter.

Horwitz is an associate editor.

Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, discussed controversies regarding the UT System Board of Regents and 2015 legislative session at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday.

Held on campus at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, the discussion was moderated by Ross Ramsey, executive editor at The Texas Tribune, who posed a wide range of questions, opening with the upcoming 2015 legislative session.

“Why do you still want this job?” Ramsey said.

Straus, who is facing a challenge for the speakership from Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, said he does not think his work is done.

“We have a lot of work still ahead of us,” Straus said. “This is my fourth election as speaker. It will be the fourth, very different House of Representatives than the first time I was elected as speaker.”

According to Straus, the relationship between Republicans and Democrats in the House is vital to the legislature's success.

“I try to help manage the House to set an example that is unlike Washington, D.C.,” Straus said. “I don’t worry about politics too much, as long as we get our job done.”

Ramsey posed a series of questions about the current relationship between the Board of Regents and the Texas Legislature. Straus said he thinks there is a disproportionate focus on the goings on at UT.

“I’m sick of [UT] being the only campus in the state of Texas that gets this much attention,” Straus said. “It’s crazy. It’s too much focus on UT-Austin, too much turmoil here. It all ties back, I believe, to the disfunction of the Board of Regents.”

In 2013, Straus authorized the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to open an investigation into Regent Wallace Hall. In August, the committee censured Hall.

Also in August, the UT System hired a risk mitigation response firm to conduct an external investigation into UT’s admissions process after questions where raised about whether letters of recommendations sent directly to President Powers from state legislators or other influential individuals had any impact on admissions decisions. The System previously conducted its own investigation and found no structured system of wrongdoing.

Straus said he does not have a problem writing college recommendation letters for college applicants.

“I’m happy to do it, but very clearly there’s no expectation that [the student] will get in because I write a letter,” Straus said. "I don’t think another investigation is necessary. People write letters. Every letter I write I expect to see it on the front page of the newspaper – I’m not embarrassed about it.”

Straus said he is hopeful the turmoil on the board is coming to an end.

“It think it’s a manufactured issue,” Straus said. “You have to have some faith and confidence in your administrators...I think it’s an excellent thing that [Admiral William McRaven] is coming in and I have very high expectations for everyone. Our new governor will be making some appointments to the board. I think we’re, hopefully, about to work our way through this.”

Government junior Shalaka Joshi said she was intrigued by Straus’ discussion of the current state of the regents.

“His thoughts on what’s happening at UT and with the Board of Regents were interesting, and I agreed with him when he talked about how the process needs to be depoliticized and that the quality of the University should be the most important thing,” Joshi said.

On Jan 10, state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, announced via Twitter that he would challenge Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, for the position of Speaker of the House, which the latter has held since 2009. To most students on the UT campus, this out-of-left-field political candidate may not warrant a second look. But his out-of-left-field policy issue of choice — grade inflation — should. 

At a Texas Public Policy Foundation panel held in early December, Turner confirmed that he plans to renew his fight to curb grade inflation at Texas universities, a cause he first took up in the 2013 legislative session. Then, Turner filed what has become known as the “Honest Transcript” bill, a bill he will likely reintroduce when lawmakers reconvene next January. The bill — which passed the House before stalling in the Senate Committee on Higher Education — would require transcripts from all public universities in Texas to include a course’s average grade along with the grade that an individual student earned in that course, so potential employers could easily judge where an “A” fell on the course’s bell curve. 

At first glance, grade inflation — or the idea that average grades have been increasing even though students aren’t spending more time studying — seems like an odd problem for a politician to take up. But Turner’s supporters say that grade inflation places a burden on employers who have to evaluate and hire recent college graduates. If average grades rise to the point where employers can no longer cut through a stack of resumes solely based on GPA, those employers will have to expend more time and resources to distinguish applicants. Second, supporters of the bill argue that grade inflation leads to an under-educated and ill-prepared workforce, eventually devaluing the worth of a college education. As average grades rise, students study less, which in turn means that they will gain less from their experiences in class. The end result? Students who are less prepared to enter the workforce than in years past, when good grades meant hard work and signaled intellectual progress.

One thing is for sure: Average grades around the nation have skyrocketed in recent decades. According to a landmark grade inflation study by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, A’s only amounted to 15 percent of all grades awarded in the early 1960s. Today, 43 percent of all grades awarded are A’s, and a staggering 73 percent are either A’s or B’s. A study by Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks also showed that students are studying less: In 1961, 67 percent of students reported studying more than 20 hours per week. In 1981, that percentage fell to 44 percent, and today, only 20 percent of students do.

It is clear, then, that the fundamental claims about grade inflation are true: Professors are awarding more A’s, average grades are going up and students appear to be studying less. But is there more to this issue?

To effectively combat grade inflation, someone or something needs to put pressure on professors to correct the grade distributions in their courses. Unfortunately, the major players — students and their professors — instead have an incentive not to change. Namely, most students stand to benefit from rising average grades, and would have no reason to advocate for a solution. And professors, who rely on student evaluations for tenure, career advancement and financial incentives, would also not want to risk angering students with a harsh grading curve.

Ultimately, there are two groups who stand to gain something from curbing grade inflation that could serve as the impetus for change: The students who are making “true” A’s who would continue to excel even within a normal grade distribution — an exceedingly small group — and employers, who have a price to pay as average GPAs rise and they are forced to find alternative ways to distinguish applicants. Pressure on the academic community to curb grade inflation would therefore have to come from the employers who need traditional grade distributions to make hiring decisions; they are the only ones who have anything to gain.

Unfortunately, Turner’s bill has nothing to do with the relationship between employers and universities, and it does nothing to force any substantive change in the classroom. Its impact would pale in comparison to, say, a major employer like Dell telling UT that it doesn’t want to recruit until grade distributions are corrected.

Turner, however, likely knows that this is the case. Considering his ambitions of unseating current Speaker Joe Straus, it’s hard to see Turner’s anti-grade inflation crusade as anything but political grandstanding — an attempt to resonate with conservative higher education reformers and their “college today doesn’t teach kids anything” talking point. 

The far-right conservative movement in which Turner has quickly become a rising star has made a nasty habit of sticking hard to that line of argument, particularly when it comes to higher education. But it’s obvious that this bill just doesn’t have the teeth to produce any substantive change in the classroom. To curb grade inflation, a bill would need to do more than simply mandate more complicated student transcripts. While transparency measures like this may sometimes be effective, the solution to this problem needs to come from the one group that has both an incentive to change and the money to lobby for it: Employers. As is, Turner’s anti-grade inflation initiative would do very little to help Texas college students.

Horns Down: Perry's latest conflict of interest

AAA Texas, a subsidiary of the Automobile Club of Southern California, is currently in negotiations to receive an economic development funding grant from the governor’s office. The only problem? AAA Texas’ CEO Thomas McKernan has donated more than $23,000 to Gov. Rick Perry since 2002, according to The Texas Tribune, creating a clear conflict of interest. The grant would be awarded by the Texas Enterprise Fund, which awards millions of tax dollars to businesses looking to relocate or expand existing operations within Texas. The three leaders who control the fund — Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus — have all received campaign contributions from executives, political action committees or investors associated with companies that received Texas Enterprise Fund awards. According to a Texans for Public Justice Report published in April, Perry collected more than $2 million from such contributions. Dewhurst received more than $1.3 million, and Straus received $232,800. The governor is supposed to represent all the people in the state of Texas — not just the select few who have thousands to spare on his campaign. If the grant is gifted to AAA Texas, Perry should take the time to explain why the company deserves it, independent of their generosity to his campaign.

Horns Up: Texas students stand up to YCT

Filling the space that might have been occupied by roving “illegal immigrants,” an estimated 500 people gathered on campus Wednesday to protest a canceled “Catch an Immigrant” game that was organized by Young Conservatives of Texas. We’re glad YCT had the good sense to call off the event after the justifiably brutal response from the national media and the University community at large.  But we’re even gladder that the counter-protesting students had the good sense not to call off their event. Although YCT’s infantile game never materialized, the feelings behind it continue to harm both undocumented students who are given in-state tuition under Texas state law and non-student immigrants who have come here for a better life. Those attitudes can’t change if those affected don’t stand up and fight for dignity and respect, so we applaud the students who protested on Wednesday for not giving up this opportunity to chip away at the rigid wall of hate and xenophobia that is keeping many from living safe and happy lives.

Horns Down: LCRA clearly doesn't read the Texan

Tuesday, the same day we published an editorial criticizing the Lower Colorado River Authority for denying more water to rural areas than urban ones, LCRA’s executive board voted to limit lawn-watering in several Central Texas cities to once a week — as it has done in Austin already. But the board also voted to cut off fresh water from the Highland Lakes to rice farmers further down the river for the third year in a row. Limiting lawn-watering in cities would be a responsible measure under normal circumstances, but in the face of the current drought, we wonder why it hadn’t been restricted already. We understand why LCRA has prioritized urban lawns over the livelihoods of those living further downstream — there are, after all, far more people in Austin than there are rice farmers in Texas — but we wish that LCRA would better address the devastation this lack of water will cause in farming communities. Maybe LCRA should take into consideration a suggestion offered via Twitter by Julia Montgomery, a UT-Austin alumna and current program coordinator at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and make a one-time investment in helping rice farmers switch to a different crop. It’s the best we can do if the LCRA is determined to leave them high and dry. 

Regent Wallace Hall alleges lawmakers unduly influence admissions

A University of Texas regent has responded to a House committee considering his impeachment by alleging that lawmakers unduly influenced student admissions in at least two cases and that school officials misrepresented donations, according to an attorney's letter released Friday.

The formal response from Wallace Hall's attorney said Hall was just doing his job in questioning activities at the University of Texas at Austin and called on lawmakers to conduct a thorough investigation. Hall has made repeated requests for a large number of university records, which some lawmakers have called a witch hunt to justify removing UT Austin President Bill Powers, a political enemy of Gov. Rick Perry. Hall was appointed by Perry.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus asked the Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to look into Hall and what critics call his attempt to micromanage the university.

"Regent Hall looks forward to the opportunity to tell this committee exactly what he was looking for, what he found and what he believes are the next steps on such topics as have animated members of the Legislature," the letter from attorney Stephen Ryan said. "He will stop only when the University of Texas System ... fully shares this committee's expressed commitment to transparency to all Texans."

The letter said Hall has found evidence that one House member and one senator improperly influenced university officials to accept two students at the UT system's flagship campus. He said the university also improperly reported non-cash gifts and failed to make information overall available to regents or the public as required by law.

Additionally, he expressed concern about salary enhancements for law school faculty, an issue that led to the UT law school dean's resignation.

There was no immediate way to independently verify Hall's allegations.

Gary Susswein, a spokesman for the University of Texas at Austin, denied any wrongdoing by campus officials.

"We're proud of our admissions policy and are happy to talk to the legislative committee about applicant recommendations we receive from lawmakers and other state officials, including regents," he said. "There was a disagreement over an accounting procedure and we've complied with the regent's request to count these contributions differently."

In June, powerful Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, asked lawmakers to investigate Hall, complaining that he was acting on behalf of Perry to force Powers out of office in order to radically change how UT operates.

Perry has called on the university's leadership to adopt wholesale changes proposed by a conservative think-tank, which officials say would cripple the campus and hurt its academic reputation.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, grilled Perry's latest additions to the UT Board of Regents during their confirmation hearings earlier this year about their role as overseers of the system and insisted they not try to directly manage the campuses, where educators enjoy some autonomy.

Hall also attracted criticism for failing to disclose his involvement in several corporate lawsuits when he filled out a questionnaire prior to his Senate confirmation. Hall has since updated his disclosure forms.