At a closely watched UT System Board of Regents meeting, the System’s top administrator acknowledged a tense relationship between regents and UT-Austin president Bill Powers but recommended Powers remain in place.
Media circus isn’t a term many would use to describe the average UT System Board of Regents meeting, but the usually staid proceedings were swarmed by journalists and UT-Austin alumni on Thursday as the fate of two prominent administrators was put in the spotlight.
Rumors that some members of the UT System’s governing board want to oust UT-Austin president Bill Powers have popped up with regularity over the past few years. With Powers’ employment a specific item on the Board of Regents’ agenda yesterday, anticipation was at an all-time high. After five hours behind closed doors, the regents took no official action on Powers, allowing him to keep his top spot on the Forty Acres.
Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, the System’s senior administrator and Powers’ boss, recommended Powers stay on as president while acknowledging what he called a “strained relationship” between himself and Powers, as well as between Powers and UT System regents. Powers as president was in the best interests of UT-Austin, Cigarroa said. He cited extensive discussions with faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and alumni—all of whom have demonstrated repeatedly their support Powers—in coming to that decision.
Cigarroa added that since August, Powers has reached out to him and their communication has improved, and “it has been greatly appreciated.”
Recently elected regents chairman Paul Foster, who told legislators during his reappointment earlier this year that he would actively work to move past the controversy, said he was confident that Powers and the board would put it behind them.
Powers waited out the regents’ closed-door session alongside alumni, students, and officials in attendance to support him. After Cigarroa’s remarks, he addressed an unusually packed room, expressing relief.
“There’s been a lot of speculation about this,” Powers told reporters. “I do appreciate the chancellor’s support, the board’s support, the chairman’s support. I look forward to moving our university ahead. I look forward to doing that tomorrow morning.”
Extra attention landed on the meeting, as some believed Powers’ fate was tied to that of head football coach Mack Brown. Brown has held the reins of the Longhorn football program for 16 seasons and earned the University one national title. However, underperforming teams in recent years have generated massive speculation that he might step down.
Powers didn’t comment on Brown’s future at Texas on Thursday, but said he would meet soon with Brown and athletic director Steve Patterson and called Brown one of the greatest coaches in college football history. Earlier in the day, Brown shot down questions about his future at an Alamo Bowl press conference in San Antonio.
In September, the Brown and Powers sagas were intertwined when news broke that System regent Wallace Hall participated in a phone conversation with an agent for Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Hall is currently under investigation by a Texas House of Representatives committee—and could eventually be impeached—for his actions as a regent, which some say have been a “witch hunt” against Powers. It was later revealed that Hall told Saban’s agent that Powers “wouldn’t last the year” as UT president.
Hall and his attorneys have countered that his unusual, massive data requests of UT-Austin, which amount to around 800,000 pages, and may include federally protected student data, are a justified part of Hall’s role on the board and intended to improve accountability.
The board did not take action Thursday on changes to the regents internal rules proposed by Foster. The changes would ensure regents go through the board to make record requests of the 15 System institutions, and would require regents to use UT email addresses for official business.
The board did vote to name the System’s newest university in South Texas, the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
Next week, the House panel will reconvene their investigation of Hall. Cigarroa and Powers have both been subpoenaed and are expected to testify Dec. 18.
Phot courtesy Marsha Miller.
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