When University of Texas System regents meet in Austin today, they could emerge from a closed-door session with a public announcement of a finalist for chancellor.
The only two candidates whose names have been confirmed by the regents thus far—John Montford and Francisco Cigarro—are from Texas. They are expected to be interviewed by the regents at their wood-paneled offices in Ashbel Smith Hall in downtown Austin.
That might suggest that, after an exhaustive national search to replace Mark Yudof, who left in June to run the University of California system, the leaders of the state’s largest and most prestigious university system have decided that someone familiar with the political, educational and cultural landscape of Texas would be best—or that out-of-state prospects didn’t want the job or otherwise didn’t pan out. The chancellorship is a demanding job, requiring a mix of political, academic and business chops. It pays well; Kenneth Shine, the executive vice chancellor for health affairs who is serving as interim chancellor, receives annual compensation of $700,000.
The chancellor is the chief executive of a sprawling enterprise with nine academic campuses, six health institutions, an annual operating budget of $11.5 billion, more than 194,000 students and more than 81,000 employees.
“It takes someone who knows a lot about universities and medical centers at an ambitious level, has a sense of leadership, has run something large enough to provide confidence they could run the system and is adept in the political and state affairs environment,” said Larry Faulkner, a former president of UT-Austin.
“A large number of academic and medical-side people are not interested because it’s not an academic job in the same sense of running a university. It’s a long way from students, faculty and academic vitality. It turns out that there are not that many people who are qualified and even fewer who are interested in doing the chancellor’s job.”
Whoever is chosen will face daunting challenges, particularly in legislative relations. The system and its flagship campus in Austin want to scale back a state law that guarantees admission to students in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school graduating class. Securing state funding is a recurring headache.
One factor that could discourage applicants who already hold senior positions in higher education is the concern that the atmosphere at their current jobs would sour if word leaks out that they’re looking for a new position, said Kenneth Ashworth, a retired higher education commissioner of Texas and former vice chancellor for academic affairs at the UT System.
Regents Chairman H. Scott Caven Jr. said months ago that the board is looking for someone with deep administrative experience, a multiyear vision for the system, experience dealing with lawmakers and a track record in higher education. Montford and Cigarroa would both appear to meet that jack-of-all-trades requirement.
Montford, a former state senator and former Texas Tech University System chancellor, is an executive and lobbyist with AT&T Inc. Cigarroa, president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, is a pediatric and transplant surgeon who knows his way around the Capitol as well as the operating room.
Montford would have an edge in the political experience category. Cigarroa would be the first Hispanic to lead the UT System.
Caven has made it clear that neither man is a finalist—at least not yet. State law requires a public university governing board to name one or more finalists publicly at least 21 days before firming up the appointment.
The Board of Regents is routinely mindful of such protocol but is perhaps especially sensitive as a result of a lawsuit filed this month by the Texas Faculty Association, which contends that the regents violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by holding private discussions of plans to lay off 3,800 employees at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston. The regents’ lawyers say the sessions complied with state law.
In a statement this week, Caven suggested that the search for a chancellor might not be over, but he declined to confirm any other candidates: “Representatives of the board have had and continue to have informal discussions with several individuals with regard to the chancellor position.”
Observers have speculated on numerous names during the past several months, including Samuel Bodman, the U.S. energy secretary; Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of the University of California at San Diego; Elias Zerhouni, former director of the National Institutes of Health; and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit organization, said the UT chancellorship is “a plum opportunity” in a growing state.
“It’s a question of the board’s judgment as to who will be best to lead the system,” Neal said. “It could be a Texan, but there’s no reason an outsider couldn’t fit the bill.”
Who’s had the job
The UT System has had nine chancellors since the Board of Regents created the position in 1950. Many had deep Texas roots before they were appointed. William Cunningham, for example, ascended to the position in 1992 after serving as a professor, business dean and president at UT-Austin.
But there have been exceptions. Hans Mark became chancellor in 1984 after a series of nationally prominent positions, including deputy administrator of NASA and secretary of the Air Force. Mark, now a professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at UT-Austin, said his lack of Texas experience wasn’t a problem.
“What I brought to the table was a background in Washington that none of the people had who were here. I knew where all the spigots were for money there,” Mark said.
Yudof had both Texas and out-of-state experience. He taught law at UT-Austin for years, serving as law dean and provost before a stint as president of the University of Minnesota. He was a politically savvy academic, persuading the Legislature to cede tuitionsetting power to boards of regents in 2003.
Governing boards in Texas increasingly seem to lean toward candidates with political experience. Kent Hance, a former state senator and U.S. representative, became Tech’s chancellor two years ago. The Texas State University System chancellorship went to Charles Matthews, a former commissioner of the Texas Railroad Commission and a former mayor of Garland, in 2005. Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed all of the UT regents, told some legislators from San Antonio in April that he thinks Montford would do a good job at the UT System. “He feels the board will choose the person who is best qualified to be chancellor,” Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for the governor, said this week.
Ashworth, the former higher education commissioner, sees a tendency in Texas and other states for governing boards to choose chancellors who are managerial in orientation rather than innovative or transformational.
“There’s also some feeling here that a chancellor can move more quickly and be more efficient if he knows something of the legislative process and knows some of the legislators,” Ashworth said. “Frankly, I think that’s a shortsighted view. Universities ought to be looking for the best candidates they can get.”
Position: President, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio
Previously: Faculty member in San Antonio, chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Yale University, medical degree from UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
Worth noting: A guitarist, specializing in classical and flamenco music
Position: President of Western region legislative and regulatory affairs for AT&T Inc.
Previously: Texas state senator, chancellor of the Texas Tech University System, district attorney in Lubbock
Education: Bachelor’s and law degrees from UT-Austin
Worth noting: Served as a judge advocate, military judge and company commander in the Marine Corps