Policymakers | Trusteeship

University of Texas-Austin President to Leave June 2015

BLOOMBERG   |  July 10, 2014 by Janet Lorin

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers will step down as of June 2, 2015, after a years-long feud with the university system’s chancellor and Board of Regents.

Powers, who has led the state’s flagship public university for eight years, submitted a letter of resignation, which was accepted by Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, according to a statement today on the system’s website.

Powers, the board and Cigarroa have been at loggerheads for years. The battle stems from criticism by some regents that in an attempt to be a major research institution, the school has failed to focus on teaching the most students at an affordable cost. Cigarroa had demanded Powers’s resignation last week, prompting faculty and alumni including former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to rally around him.

“There was no single incident that prompted my decision to ask President Powers for his resignation last week, but a long history of issues with communication, responsiveness and a willingness to collaborate,” Cigarroa said in a statement.

Next month, board Chairman Paul Foster will initiate the search for a successor to Powers, and a committee will be set up that will include members of the faculty, deans, students and community representatives, according to the statement.

$3 Billion Campaign

Powers, 68, asked to remain on the job to lead the university through the next state legislative session and to make for a smooth transition, Cigarroa said. Powers is concluding a $3 billion capital campaign and helped establish the university’s Dell Medical School as well as start construction on an engineering center.

“We worked hard to come up with this plan and it’s a plan I am very happy with,” Powers said in a phone interview today.

In 2011, Republican Governor Rick Perry called for state universities in Texas to offer degrees for $10,000. Many academics, including Powers, resisted the focus on cutting expenses. Since then, Powers and the regents have increasingly been in disagreement about the changes Perry called for and some regents supported.

“Higher education is really in a time of immense change,” said Anne Neal, president of the Washington-based American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which represents college boards. “We certainly are seeing growing public concern about issues of quality and cost.”

‘Highest Honor’

The primary responsibility of trustees “is to the taxpayers and the people of the state and to the students,” Neal said.

Powers, who served as dean of the law school before becoming president in 2006, spoke about his resignation today at a meeting of the Faculty Council.

“It has been the highest honor and the blessing of my life to be here,” Powers said at the meeting. “It’s the right time, for me and my family.”

After taking some time off, Powers said he plans to teach at the law school and write books on legal philosophy and torts. He is currently also serving a year term as chairman of the Association of American Universities, which represents major research schools in the U.S.

An online petition supporting the embattled president had drawn more than 14,000 signatures, including from faculty members.

Powers and Cigarroa have placed the interests of the university ahead of their own individual interests, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, a Washington-based group of higher education institutions representing more than 1,600 college presidents.

“The University of Texas at Austin will recover from these difficult days,” she said.


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