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Good practices

Policies regarding conflicts of interest

The House of Representatives of the state of Texas in the United States has been putting pressure on the state universities to adopt explicit policies to deal with conflicts of interest in the activities of their boards of regents, which oversee the functioning of the universities, inspecting their use of resources and appointing their heads. In a recent hearing with a higher education inspection commission, senator Judith Zaffirini asked the chairpersons of the boards of regents of Texas University and of Texas A&M University whether there is “a statement establishing conduct expectations for its members.” No response was forthcoming.

The chair of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus, is promoting studies at the House’s ethics committee to evaluate whether advisors named by the governor, therein included the members of the boards of regents, should be required to “sign governance documents” prior to accepting the appointments. Most of the six Texas university systems have a specific policy for their regents.

However, the University of Texas, one of the largest, is an exception. Recently, a group of university alumni expressed concern with the possibility of regents embracing controversial proposals put forth by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative organization, given that the governing boards of the two Texan universities have members who also sit on the committees of the said foundation. “There are two types of conflict,” said Gordon Appleman, an attorney and member of the alumni group, to The New York Times daily newspaper: “One is a classic conflict of interests, of a financial nature. The other is cross-participation on boards with conflicting proposals.”