UT board chairman treading carefully on matter of no black regents

Paul Foster, chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, apparently wasn’t satisfied with his explanation — and his apology — regarding the question of African Americans on that board during a state Senate hearing Thursday. So he released a statement Friday to “clearly articulate my beliefs in the importance of diverse representation.”

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The issue arose when Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, noted that there have been only 3 blacks on the UT board in 126 years.

Here’s how the exchange went:

West: “Do you think that perspective is necessary in this day and age to make certain that the decisions you are entrusted to make are made with the best information available in order to render a decision based on what the facts are?”

Foster: “I think that perspective is valuable, yes.”

West: “Do you think it’s necessary?”

Foster: “I don’t think it’s critical. But it’s very, very helpful.”

West: “I find it appalling that you sit up there and say that our perspective is not critical to your deliberations on your board.”

Foster: “I”m sorry if you took my statement that way. What I thought you were asking me was, is it critical that an African American be on the board? And all I was saying was I don’t believe that’s absolutely critical. I do believe that the perspective is critical. And I apologize if I misstated that, and I certainly apologize if I offended you.”

West: “I accept your apology. But African American perspective on every board of regents in this state is absolutely necessary.”

Here’s what Foster said Friday in his statement:

“I want to clarify my comments yesterday to Sen. Royce West regarding the importance of diversity on The University of Texas System Board of Regents. My initial response didn’t clearly articulate my beliefs in the importance of diverse representation.

“I unequivocally believe that a board that represents the people of Texas – a truly diverse body that brings multiple perspectives to every issue – is absolutely critical to the success of the UT System. While we, as regents, do not have the power to choose our own members and would greatly benefit from increased racial, ethnic and gender diversity on the board, we do ensure that our faculty and staff councils, advisory committees and working groups include diverse voices from varied backgrounds and we listen carefully to all of those perspectives.

“We have also supported and applauded a new policy implemented by Chancellor McRaven to increase diversity among our executive leaders at both the campus and system level – an issue we feel very strongly about. I can say with utmost confidence that all of members of the UT System Board of Regents carry out their duties with the best interests of our students, faculty and all Texans foremost in their minds.”

A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, whose three appointees two years ago to the UT board and three current nominees do not include any blacks, had this to say earlier this week: “Governor Abbott is proud of the individuals he has appointed to direct Texas’ higher education institutions, and he will continue to seek out willing public servants who not only share his vision for Texas, but also reflect the diversity of the state.”

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