UT Chancellor: ‘I’ve Accomplished My Goals’

UT Chancellor: 'I've Accomplished My Goals'

Everything he set out to do, he has done. So said UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa yesterday at a press conference to announce that he is resigning as the top System employee after five years, having delivered (among other things) a new medical school to South Texas, another to UT-Austin, and a new university in the Rio Grande Valley able to tap into the state’s Permanent University Fund.

A renowned pediatric transplant surgeon, Cigarroa is heading back to the operating room. Even as chancellor, a job where he oversaw all 15 academic and health institutions that comprise the UT System, including UT-Austin, he insisted on still being in the hospital one weekend a month. Once the UT System Board of Regents finds a new chancellor, Cigarroa will become head of pediatric transplant surgery at San Antonio’s UT Health Science Center, where he served as president immediately before being selected to lead the System.

“It’s a great time to make this move professionally,” Cigarroa said. “If I didn’t go back to surgery, I think long term I would have regretted it.”

It sounds straightforward enough. In reality, circumstances surrounding Cigarroa’s departure complicate the picture considerably.

During his tenure as chancellor, Cigarroa has found himself at or near the center of several controversies, most recently the possible impeachment of Regent Wallace Hall. Hall faces charges of abusing his regental authority to demand hundreds of thousands of records from UT-Austin and President Bill Powers—everything from Powers’ personal travel records to Post-it notes from his desk. The elan with which Hall has pursued Powers has irritated so many Texas legislators, who respect Powers and believe Hall is on a witch hunt to remove him, that a special House committee is considering whether Hall should be impeached.

Hall, along with eight other members of the Board of Regents, has the responsibility to set a direction and oversee the entire UT System. The chancellor reports to the board, and each campus president, including Bill Powers, reports up to the chancellor.

In a recent board meeting, Powers’ employment was discussed at length behind closed doors. Afterward, the chancellor delivered what appeared to be a forced public shaming of Powers, saying he needed to work on his communication with the board and with his System bosses. Nonetheless, Cigarroa insisted he thought Powers was the man for the job, and in each case where Powers’ job has been reportedly on the line, a majority of the board has supported him.

Since Cigarroa has announced his resignation, several legislators have issued statements celebrating him. Gov. Rick Perry thanked him for his service and said his efforts “will pay dividends for our state for years to come.” Speaker Joe Straus said Cigarroa “is deeply respected in the Legislature for his leadership, his honesty, and his effective advocacy on behalf of higher education.”

And Cigarroa’s longtime friend state Sen. Judith Zaffirini gave her characteristically blunt assessment of the circumstances that led to his departure, saying he has “endured unmitigated stress from the rogue regents who want UT President Bill Powers fired” and that she fears he was pushed to resign. “Those who were unhappy with his recommendation to continue the heavily supported employment of President Powers reportedly turned their powerful weapons on him.”

For his part, Cigarroa did praise Powers, saying he supports the beleaguered president and will continue to evaluate him and the 14 other System presidents for the remainder of his time as chancellor.

What’s next? Regents chairman Paul Foster, who in a glowing assessment of Cigarroa called him the finest chancellor in UT System history, said the board will likely hire a search firm to find his replacement. The process would take four to six months, Foster estimated, and said Gov. Perry’s input on a replacement would be sought and considered.

Veteran political reporter Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune has laid out an illuminating overview of the political landscape, saying Cigarroa’s resignation represents a huge favor to Gov. Perry, whose tenure as governor ends this year.

Asked if he had any advice for his successor, Cigarroa considered for a moment and said: “Be a very good listener, don’t rush decisions, and reach out to alumni.”

Contributing reporting by Andrew Roush. Above: UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, left, and regents chairman Paul Foster. Photo by Tim Taliaferro.


Tags: , , , , , ,


1 Comment

Post a Comment