Trustees | Trusteeship

UT president Bill Powers to stay until June

DALLAS MORNING NEWS   |  July 9, 2014 by Holly K. Hacker and Marissa Barnett

After years of rising tensions with his boss and the Board of Regents, Bill Powers will resign as president of the University of Texas—but on his own terms.

Powers said Wednesday that he will lead the Austin campus until June 2. His boss, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, had told him to step down this fall or be fired. But Cigarroa announced Wednesday that he would honor Powers’ request to serve longer.

“We came to this decision because everyone involved has the highest love and admiration for this university,” Powers told faculty and others on campus Wednesday.

Powers said he wants to see UT through several projects, including the final stages of a $3 billion capital campaign, the creation of a new medical school and efforts to help more students graduate. He also wants to steer UT through the next legislative session, which runs January through May.

In his resignation letter, Powers promised to mend fences.

“I understand that our relationship has been strained,” he wrote to Cigarroa. “I pledge to you that I will work diligently to repair our relationship and to set a cooperative tone with you, the UT System, and the Board of Regents.”

Neither Powers nor Cigarroa—who announced his own pending resignation in February—has explained just how and why relations became so rocky. In a written statement Wednesday, Cigarroa said, “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.”

Powers became UT president in 2006. A former dean of the law school, Powers has enjoyed support from students, professors and many influential alumni.

Cigarroa became chancellor of the UT System, which oversees the Austin campus and 14 others, in 2009.

Two years later, rumors surfaced that both Powers and Cigarroa could lose their jobs for resisting changes pushed by some regents and Gov. Rick Perry. Proposed changes included emphasizing teaching over research and cutting tuition while growing enrollment.

Meanwhile, regent Wallace Hall of Dallas (who like all university regents, is a Perry appointee) began digging into UT’s operations and making steady records requests. Some state lawmakers and critics accuse Hall of going on a “witch hunt” to discredit Powers.

Hall’s actions are now being investigated by a special House committee, and he faces impeachment. He is accused of abusing his office and micromanaging the university.

Perry has said Hall is doing what a good regent should do, “asking tough questions, gathering facts and searching for the truth.”

Last week, Cigarroa told Powers to submit his resignation, effective in October, or be fired at a Thursday meeting of the Board of Regents.

By staying until June, Powers all but ensures that Perry won’t have a say in naming the next UT president. Perry will leave office in January.

As before when Powers’ job seemed in jeopardy, the Longhorn nation—from student government leaders to the Texas Exes alumni association—rose swiftly to his defense.

But Powers also has his detractors. There have been investigations into a loan forgiveness policy at the law school, a program started when he was dean. And there have been questions about legislators having undue influence on who gets into UT’s main campus and law school. Last month, Cigarroa called for an outside review of UT’s admissions process.

And in April, students protested a “shared services” plan endorsed by Powers. It would cut jobs by consolidating some campus services in finance, human resources and other areas.

Some observers say Powers should have resigned sooner.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonprofit group that promotes accountability in higher education. The group’s president, Anne Neal, said in a statement, “It would have been better for Texans and the university had Powers stepped down immediately and acknowledged the breakdown in communications and trust critical to a productive partnership.”

On Wednesday, UT’s faculty council met to consider a resolution of support for Powers. News about Powers’ decision broke during the meeting. The resolution passed.

Hillary Hart, a professor in engineering and chair of the faculty council, called the news a “big win” for higher education. Powers’ initiatives to increase graduation rates and help new students adjust to the campus and coursework were great achievements, she said.

“He gets to bring these programs to fulfillment now,” Hart said.

The Board of Regents will hold its regular meeting Thursday in Austin. Powers and Cigarroa will be there, too.

Powers, a tenured law professor, said he intends to remain on the UT campus after his presidency ends.

“I have some books I want to write in legal philosophy, torts, other areas,” he said. “I’ll have plenty to do.”


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