Fertitta criticizes UT System’s ‘arrogance’ to Legislature
Local billionaire and chairman of the UH System Board of Regents Tilman Fertitta used his Thursday morning confirmation hearing before the Legislature to criticize the University of Texas System’s terminated Houston expansion.
The UHS Board of Regents has opposed the 332 acre Houston expansion since its announcement in Nov. 2015. UT System Chancellor William McRaven killed the controversial expansion on March 1 after criticism from Texas lawmakers. They publicly complained about the UT System’s circumvention of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in the purchase of the land.
“That may have been in the best interest of the UT System but maybe not in the best interest of the state of Texas,” Fertitta said.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is responsible for maintaining geographic balance between universities in Texas. Michael Olivas, a UH William B. Gates Distinguished Chair of Law professor, stated the University’s stance on the expansion in 2015, scolding the UT System for purchasing the land out of adherence with higher education practices he referred to as “common law.”
“You see what happens to arrogance sometimes. You lose,” Fertitta said, referring to the controversy as a product of the UT System’s access to “too much money,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
In response to “the elephant in the room,” Fertitta said he would adhere to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board when faced with similarly large decisions concerning the University, according to the Houston Chronicle. As a regent, Fertitta said, he would prioritize the needs of Texas citizens before the needs of the UH System administration.
“I answer to three gods here,” Fertitta said at the hearing, after Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, asked how he would react to competing interests between the state and UH. “I answer to the Legislature first, the students second and the administration third. And when I say you guys first, that’s the citizens of Texas.”
During the hearing, Fertitta also said UH should improve its graduation rate and campus diversity, according to the Houston Chronicle. Fertitta also denounced the practice of granting tenure to professors and the salary of the UH System Chancellor and President Renu Khator, whom he declared “underpaid.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, Khator was the highest paid public university leader in the United States in 2015.
Fertitta was first appointed to the UHS Board of Regents in 2009 and was reappointed, but not yet confirmed, after the end of Texas’ 2015 legislative session, according to the Houston Chronicle.