Cigarroa Relents: Powers to Keep Job Until 2015

Cigarroa Relents: Powers to Keep Job Until 2015

With reporting by Rose Cahalan

The standoff is over: Bill Powers gets to stay on as president of UT-Austin.

In a surprise announcement at today’s meeting of the faculty council, Provost Greg Fenves announced that word had just come down from the UT System that Powers and Cigarroa had agreed on a timetable, and he would be staying until the end of the school year. Powers had been given an ultimatum to resign or be fired (which Powers countered with an offer to resign after the end of the coming legislative session), and as of this morning it looked like Powers would be axed at tomorrow’s meeting of the Board of Regents.

A somber, standing-room-only special meeting of the UT Faculty Council turned jubilant when Fenves suddenly took to the podium and said, “I’m pleased to announce that President Bill Powers will continue through June 2, 2015.” Faculty members and students gave a standing ovation and cheered after hearing the news.

Before Fenves made the announcement, *English professor Alan Friedman gave a rousing speech that recounted the history of political conflict at UT, from “Pa” Ferguson to Homer Rainey to Frank Irwin. “The assaults on President Powers represent an attack on everything that makes this institution great. Academic freedom, critical thinking, and the ability to pursue the truth … Victories won through political intervention are always pyrrhic.” Professors Martha Hilley, Andrea Gore, Bill Beckner, and Hillary Hart also praised Powers.

After the meeting ended, Powers came down from his office on the fourth floor of the Main Building to address reporters.

“To our alumni and our friends who love this university,” Powers said, “their support has been so, so meaningful to Kim and to me and to the entire administration.”

Powers also thanked students and the faculty for their support.

“We came to this decision because everyone involved has the highest admiration for this university,” Powers said. “Why now, why today, that’s something I don’t think would be useful for me to speculate.”

Once he finishes his term as president, Powers said he intends to return to the law school.

“I’ll take some time off and teach in the law school,” he said. “I have some books I want to write on legal philosophy and torts and other areas. I’ll have plenty to do. It’ll be probably a little emotional, but I’ll be here. I’ve always planned to stay at the University of Texas.

“It is the highest honor and blessing of my life to be here leading the University of Texas,” Powers continued. “It’s the right time for me and my family.”

In a joint statement from Texas Exes president Kay Bailey Hutchison and chairman Charles Matthews, the two thanked Cigarroa and Powers for finding a resolution.

“We applaud Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and President Bill Powers for coming to an agreement that puts the university first. Over the last week, each leader has risen above personal differences to assure the interests of UT were the first consideration. Allowing President Powers to finish what he has started will ensure a successful year for UT and an orderly transition through the next legislative session. We now know the succession plan for both the chancellor and the president of UT-Austin, and we will work together for the transition to be smooth.”

An announcement from the UT System shortly after confirmed the arrangement. See the full statement below:

Statement from Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. regarding UT Austin President Bill Powers

Today UT Austin President Bill Powers submitted a letter of resignation, effective June 2, 2015, and I have accepted it.

President Powers, who has led great advancements for the University, has expressed a desire to remain in his position long enough to complete several important initiatives, lead the University through the upcoming legislative session, and allow for a smooth transition to new leadership. I honor his commitment to UT Austin and agree that this is the best course forward.

Next month, Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster plans to initiate an exhaustive national search process that will utilize a search advisory committee to assist in the selection of UT Austin’s next president. The committee will include representation of faculty, deans, students and community representatives of the University, as well as at least two current presidents from UT institutions and at least one member of the Board of Regents.

There is no doubt that UT Austin is the crown jewel of public higher education in Texas. As chancellor, I have done everything in my power to provide UT Austin with the resources it needs to reach even higher vistas, to ultimately achieve its goal to be recognized as the finest public research university in America. I believe that is a goal well within our sights.

President Powers is an admired leader who, as I’ve said before, has advanced the University in many ways. He is concluding a record-breaking $3 billion capital campaign, has worked with the UT System and the Board of Regents in the past year to establish the Dell Medical School and to launch construction of a $310 million Engineering Education and Research Center – which together will be a major catalyst for UT Austin to achieve the ranking and recognition it deserves – and he has earned the reputation as a national leader in higher education.

It is, however, time for an orderly change in leadership. While ultimately productive, the past years have not been without struggle and, at times, conflict and controversy. 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.

I truly believe that it is time for a fresh start and a chance to build a strong relationship. We will all be successful if we keep the future of UT in our hearts and minds. I sincerely thank the UT Austin faculty, students, staff and the UT System’s Faculty Advisory Council for their important input over the past week.

Photo by Anna Donlan.

*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article identified Alan Friedman as a math professor. In fact, he teaches English. Thanks to two excellent readers for spotting it.

 

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