Sara Martinez Tucker

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a two-part series on the two new members of the UT System Board of Regents. The second profile will run Thursday.​UT System Regent Sara Martinez Tucker will join the Board of Regents for the first time at a meeting Friday.

The Texas Senate unanimously confirmed Martinez Tucker, a UT alumna, in early March with little contention, and she was sworn into the office of the Board of regents shortly after.

Martinez Tucker is the president emeritus of the National Math + Science Initiative and served previously as CEO of the organization. Tom Luce, chairman of the National Math + Science Initiative board of directors, said Martinez Tucker worked tirelessly for education. 

“She did a wonderful job at the National Math + Science Initiative,” Luce said. “She really did a terrific job of helping to improve operations and efficiency on a nationwide program, and she has a real passion for education for all kids.”

Luce said Martinez Tucker’s wide variety of experience will benefit the Board of Regents.

“She’s got one of the most impressive résumés anybody could have, in that she’s had private sector achievements, nonprofit achievements and public sector achievements,” Luce said. “It’s difficult to find somebody who’s done all three in their career, and she’s done them,”  

In a June 2014 article from “Hispanic Executive”  magazine, Martinez Tucker spoke about her family’s dedication to education and how it influenced her. Growing up in a family of three children, Martinez Tucker said she understood the importance of education after her youngest brother graduated from college. 

“I recognized how lucky I was to have parents that valued education,” Martinez Tucker said in the article. “They sacrificed to send me to Catholic schools, which had better education, and supported my decision to leave Laredo. Too many people don’t have all those things lined up for them.”

Luce said growing up surrounded by a family that supported her education helped Martinez Tucker develop a passion for education.

“I think she’s grounded by her personal story, growing up in [Laredo], and her mother was very passionate about education,” Luce said. “She served on the University of Notre Dame advisory board — I mean, she’s just got a heart
for education.”

Former President Bush nominated Martinez Tucker to be the undersecretary of education from 2006–2008.

“As undersecretary, she [oversaw] all policies, programs and activities related to postsecondary education, vocational and adult education, and federal student aid,” a Department of  Education report said.

Luce said Martinez Tucker will make decisions on the Board to improve educational opportunities.

“She’ll be very thoughtful, and she’ll ask good questions, and she’ll take an analytical look at things but always from a position of heart for education and education for all people,” Luce said.

Luce said Martinez Tucker is excited to take her place on the Board of Regents and to give back to the school that gave her so many opportunities.

“I’ve heard her describe [becoming a regent] as ‘really a dream come true to serve on the Board,’ where she went to school and was educated, and she’s very excited about the opportunity,” Luce said.

According to UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, Martinez Tucker was not available for comment, pending orientation for her role on the Board.

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a two-part series on the two new members of the UT System Board of Regents. The second profile will run Thursday.

The Senate Committee on Nominations questioned Gov. Greg Abbott’s first three appointees to the UT System Board of Regents on Thursday morning.
Photo Credit: Andy Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate Committee on Nominations questioned Gov. Greg Abbott’s three regent appointees for more than five hours about admissions, open records requests, and other issues that have prompted conflict in the UT System at a committee hearing Thursday.

Abbott’s first appointees to the UT System Board of Regents, Steven Hicks, Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck, appeared before the Senate Committee on Nominations as part of the confirmation process. Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) asked the appointees questions regarding a report’s findings that UT President William Powers Jr. secured the admission of a few applicants over the objection of the admissions office.

When asked about his opinion of the report, which the UT System commissioned, Hicks defended UT Powers told the committee members the president should have some discretion when looking at admissions.

“I don’t see how you could keep a current president from having some role in admissions,” Hicks said. “The admissions officer today reports to this president. I do know [UT System Chancellor William] McRaven is very active in this area, and he’s going to ensure there are no irregularities in this admissions cycle.” 

Hicks was also asked about the extent to which regents should have access to documents, alluding to the controversy surrounding current regent Wallace Hall, who filed open records requests for thousands of documents regarding Powers’ presidency and other UT affairs in 2013.

“I would hope that transparency would be first and foremost in your minds,” committee member Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) said. “I would hope that you would not be an obstructionist to someone that is trying to be transparent and accountable to the people of Texas.” 

Hicks said he thinks regents should have the right to documents and that policies should be implemented to handle large-scale public information requests within the System. 

“I don’t think restriction is the right term; I think there has to be some practicality involved,” Hicks said. “If you’re requesting 2,000 documents, I think there has to be a reasonable set of guidelines.”

At the meeting, board members also questioned Martinez Tucker, who has previously voiced support for the common-core curriculum in certain states. Martinez Tucker said although she admires core curriculum, she is glad it is not implemented in the state. 

“I am thrilled that we have the Texas essential knowledge and those standards,” Martinez Tucker said. “It is the state’s right to create standards. I will respect that, and I will live by that.” 

When asked about tuition affordability at UT institutions, Beck said he wanted to emphasize that affordability was critical.

“I couldn’t afford to go to the University of Texas even back in the 1960s,” Beck said. “Affordability is very important to me and to say that somehow, [affordability is a negative], in the abstract — I don’t agree with that.”

Abbott announced his nominations Jan. 28, shortly after being sworn in as governor. As current regent vice chairman, Hicks is the only appointee with prior regent experience, having been a board member since 2009.

Vice Chairman R. Steven Hicks at a Board of Regents meeting in November 2013.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System regents have seen their roles transformed in recent years from often mundane bureaucrat to flag bearer for one or the other side in the ideological battles over higher education. Former Gov. Rick Perry and his ilk, led by Regent Wallace Hall, went on numerous crusades in the past years in search of controversial educational reforms throughout the state. In their grand vision, this University — the state's flagship — would be reduced to a second-rate trade school, as scholastic research would be heavily eschewed in favor of quickly producing diplomas.  

This did not sit well with William Powers Jr., the president of this University, and the battle lines were soon drawn. With Gov. Greg Abbott just taking office, and three regent spots open just next month, we have impatiently waited to see if our new governor would follow the anti-intellectual, asinine choices of his predecessor. 

Thankfully, as a result of his new picks and renomination to the Board of Regents, the answer looks to be an emphatic no. Abbott nominated Regent Steve Hicks, a vociferous opponent of Perry and Hall's antics, for another term on the board. He also nominated David Beck and Sara Martinez Tucker, respectively, to other positions. All three individuals are expected to be easily confirmed by the state Senate.  

According to the Texas Tribune, Beck was instrumental in the creation of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group that has been sharply critical of both Perry's proposals and Hall's conduct. Tucker, meanwhile, served as Undersecretary of Education during the last Bush administration. Additionally, unlike Perry's key picks, she did not donate to the Governor beforehand.

In taking these little steps, Abbott has already changed gubernatorial policy toward this University. His actions appear to cement a desire to transform the UT regent back into the bureaucrat it once was, whose biggest priority is the success of the universities and not ideological bosses or cadres.  

Michael Quinn Sullivan, a right-wing activist who has been among Hall's biggest backers, is already unhappy. In a recent post for his website, Empower Texans, Sullivan blasted Tucker in particular, castigating — among other things — her alleged ties to the controversial evaluation system in schools known as "Common Core."   

Indeed, with such a strong pivot away from Perry's deleterious ways, Abbott will encounter some resistance. But we believe the gratitude he will receive from all of us at this University, who have overwhelmingly opposed Perry and Hall's schemes, will far outweigh that resistance.