UT Regents' $15,000 Retreat Draws Criticism

A $15,000 retreat planned for the University of Texas System Board of Regents is drawing fire from an association that represents some of the 3,800 people losing their jobs at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston, officials said.

The Texas Faculty Association has sued UT, accusing regents of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act when they authorized the terminations of the UTMB employees on Nov. 12. The association is questioning whether regents have "lost their minds" by having the retreat, according to reports in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News.

"They wallow in ... luxury while Hurricane Ike victims -- thousands of whom are their employees, tens of thousands of whom are their patients and students -- struggle mightily at incredible odds, trying to re-establish their lives," said Tom Johnson, the association's executive director.

Ike blasted ashore near Galveston on Sept. 13, flattening buildings and killing at least 37 people in Texas.

The "Presidents' Retreat" at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort near Bastrop scheduled on Thursday and Friday will be paid from interest on donated, non-tax funds, said UT spokesman Matt Flores. The meeting will include work sessions, a reception, a dinner and an overnight stay for a few dozen regents and other UT officials. He said the cost includes food, meeting space, audio-visual services and rooms for 32 people.

Any attendees who find time for golf, massages or other diversions will pay for their play from their own pockets, he said.

"The board of regents and presidents retreat is absolutely critical to the success of the UT System and its institutions," interim Chancellor Kenneth I. Shine said in a written statement.

Shine said UT officials nevertheless considered canceling the retreat, scheduled months ago, before the worsening economy had become a critical issue, but would have forfeited a $9,000 deposit.

He said university leadership is keenly aware of "our fiduciary responsibility to the people of the state of Texas," and has instituted a flexible hiring freeze, downsized UT System holiday events and curtailed travel.

The retreat will follow a regents meeting in Austin on Thursday morning, during which the board will meet in a closed-door session to interview two contenders for the chancellor's post. They are AT&T executive John Montford of San Antonio and Francisco Cigarroa, president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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