Gov. Abbott Fills University Boards with His Campaign Donors, Highlights Need for Universities to Organize

New analysis published by the Texas Tribune this week highlights an apparent quid pro quo agreement between Gov. Greg Abbott and some of his top donors, who he has appointed to serve on Texas public university governing boards. 

Of the 114 appointments Gov. Greg Abbott has made to Texas public university boards and to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), 70% were donors to his campaigns. Since Abbott first announced he was running for governor in 2013, contributions from appointees to these boards amount to almost $28 million in direct and in-kind donations, when adjusted for inflation. These donations account for nearly 10% of the total donations Abbott received over that time period.

While there is no evidence of any sort of specific agreement between Abbott and his appointed donors, several state lawmakers have acknowledged the appearance of a quid pro quo. In 2017 a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the Texas House passed a Republican-authored bill that would have blocked the governor from appointing any donor who contributed more than $2,500, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blocked the bill from even receiving a hearing in the Senate. 

Some of the Abbott-appointed donors have wielded their influence as board members to push conservative ideologies. Kevin Eltife, a former state senator and current member of the University of Texas Board of Regents since 2017, has donated $150,000 to Abbott’s campaigns. Eltife has weighed in on a number of controversial cultural debates facing UT system schools, including the racial history of “The Eyes of Texas,” the school spirit song of the University of Texas at Austin. Eltife also, reportedly, has been involved with the proposal to bring a taxpayer-funded conservative think tank to UT-Austin, a move that drew criticism from faculty.

Texas AAUP Pledges to ‘Support Higher Education in Texas’

With high-quality affordable public higher education continuing to be undermined in Texas, college and university faculty across the state have been organizing their workplaces through Texas AFT and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). AAUP, which merged nationally with AFT this summer, has opened up several new chapters across Texas.

The Texas Conference of the AAUP is fighting for …

  • academic freedom to empower professors, research staff, and other scholars to bring the latest breakthroughs into the classroom, innovate in research, scholarly work and creative endeavors, and disseminate knowledge for the benefit of society,
  • shared governance to ensure that faculty have the primary role at all levels of decision-making on all matters that affect the curriculum, teaching, and learning,
  • tenure to provide professors the time and academic freedom safeguards to search for and fully develop highly innovative ideas, which can take many years and even decades, and
  • state funding of public higher education to be fully restored and maintained so that all Texans can afford public higher education while accruing little or no debt.

You can support AAUP members’ organizing efforts to protect Texas public universities by signing their petition.