Trustees | Trusteeship

University of Texas Board Asks President to Step Down

WALL STREET JOURNAL   |  July 8, 2014 by Nathan Koppel

The president of the University of Texas at Austin, the state’s flagship public university, has been asked to leave office following a long-running dispute with the university’s board, a move some academics claim is an assault on the school’s academic independence.

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers said he would not agree to an “abrupt resignation,” believing it would “cast the university and our state in a highly unfavorable light,” according to a July 4 letter to University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. But Mr. Powers added that he would agree to step down next year.

Appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the nine-member University of Texas Board of Regents has repeatedly clashed with Mr. Powers over a range of issues, including whether the university has done enough to lower costs and keep a lid on tuition increases, a debate with parallels in other states. The University of Virginia board ousted school President Teresa Sullivan in 2012 partly because of concerns she wasn’t moving quickly enough to address budget challenges. The board later reinstated Ms. Sullivan.

In a statement Monday night, Mr. Cigarroa, the university system’s chancellor, said he had asked Mr. Powers to resign in light of a “breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the university.”

Mr. Powers declined to respond to the statement, according to a spokesman.

The University of Texas Boards of Regents is scheduled to meet Thursday and is expected to arrive at a time frame for Mr. Powers’ departure.

Anne Neal—president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which advocates for board members to more actively supervise university affairs—said that “when the president and board are no longer working together, then it’s right for the board to seek another leader.” She added: “The fact is: the president answers to the board; not the board to the president.”

Hunter Rawlings III, the president of the Association of American Universities, accused the Texas board of politically intruding on one of the nation’s leading universities. “Faculty members and researchers and graduate students across the country know what is transpiring in Texas: the complete politicization of higher education.”

Mr. Powers is currently the chairman of the Association of American Universities, which comprises 62 public and private research universities in the U.S. and Canada.

Geetika Jerath, a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, said students have started an online petition to defend Mr. Powers and plan to protest his possible ouster in the days ahead. “He has brought a lot of pride to the university and this would bring a lot of negative attention if he is forced to leave,” she said.


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