In the Texas Legislature, a Flood of Support for Powers

Reading honorary resolutions is business as usual in the Texas Legislature. But today, when the Senate passed a resolution in support of UT president Bill Powers, something very uncommon took place: an intense, emotional outpouring of support for an increasingly embattled leader.

Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler)’s resolution celebrated Powers’ distinguished career as a legal scholar, teacher, and administrator. “I see a man who puts the University first,” Eltife, BBA ’81, said in the Senate. “Someone who stands up for what he believes in, even if it may not be politically popular.”

As 11 senators stood in turn to praise the president’s leadership, it became clear that the resolution was not just an accolade. It was a unanimous message to the UT Board of Regents—some of whose members have been highly critical of Powers’ leadership.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst fought back tears as he voiced his belief that UT regents are overstepping their bounds. “I’m particularly troubled when I see UT regents going around this man and this administration,” Dewhurst said. “I see them trying to micromanage the system, and I see cases, allegedly, I’m told, of character assassination … This issue is bigger than just UT-Austin and president Powers. This is about the reputation of the state of Texas.”

In his closing remarks, a visibly angry Dewhurst said he would have more to say about this issue tomorrow.

Powers was being honored for a series of recent awards, including winning the Fleming Prize, being elected vice chair of the Association of American Universities, and for participating in a national commission on higher education attainment.

A nearly verbatim resolution passed shortly afterward in the House, where it was authored by Higher Education Committee Chairman Dan Branch (R-Dallas) and co-authored by Donna Howard, BSN ’75, MA ’77.

After the resolution reading, the senators posed for a rare group photo with Powers. Photo courtesy Office of Sen. Kevin Eltife.

Update: UT Board of Regents chairman Gene Powell released a statement Friday in response to the events of Monday:

Over the last few days, I have had several good conversations with Governor Dewhurst, in which he and I have discussed recent events in the Texas Senate and at The University of Texas System. I informed him of my belief that some statements made in recent days, particularly about members of the UT System Board of Regents, surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate. I know my fellow regents; they are outstanding individuals and I stand behind them fully.

Read the full statement here.

Dewhurst subsequently told the Texas Tribune he has learned additional information and perspectives as is glad the Joint Oversight Committee, which he and Speaker Joe Strauss reappointed, will look into all the facts.


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