Student Leaders Back the President (and Other Updates from the Powers Struggle)

Student Leaders Back Powers

On the eve of possibly the most anticipated Board of Regents meeting in the history of UT, more voices from both sides of the struggle over UT-Austin president Bill Powers are chiming in.

In a letter addressed to UT System leadership today, 18 former UT student leaders defended Powers, whose job seems to (once again) be in jeopardy. Last week, UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who previously backed Powers’ continued employment, asked him to step down as head of the university in October or face being fired at Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Regents.

The group of previous student body presidents and vice presidents dating back to 2005 have asked Cigarroa and the members of the board to keep Powers and help facilitate a “longer-term transition” plan. In his own letter to Cigarroa, Powers offered to step down at the end of the 2015 Texas Legislature. The System has not taken the offer, and regents are poised to consider Powers’ employment at tomorrow’s meeting.

The student leaders wrote that the university is, “a collection of students—students who attend the University to receive a world class education, participate in cutting-edge research, test their leadership potential, and grow as individuals who are seeking to go out and change the world … First hand, we know President Powers shares this view and that is why he wakes up every morning to make the University a better place for the students who go there.”

Contending that they represented students’ view of Powers, the alumni describe Powers’ role on campus and the positive environment they say he has fostered.

“He came to Student Government meetings to get the pulse of the student body; he attended athletic events, organizational exhibitions, and academic fairs; he walked through the West Mall, flashing a “Hook’em” to students on their way to class,” the letter says. “There is a reason why Bill Powers is so loved by students of the University: he is their president, he is our president.”

A separate letter, written by current student body president Kornel Rady and addressed to Cigarroa, also argues that firing Powers would cause harm to the university and its reputation.

“Despite the University of Texas at Austin’s successes, the ongoing struggle has disrupted and even harmed the University over the past three years, with only the potential for a disastrous end,” Rady writes. “The abrupt removal of the University’s leadership in President Powers does a disservice to the status of higher education in Texas and has uncertain implications for the future of the University of Texas.”

And a third letter from the leaders of student groups around campus also appeals to Cigarroa to keep Powers on as president.

Whispers that Powers’ job is in danger have captured headlines several times over the course of his presidency, which began in 2006. This time around, the story was broken by Micheal Quinn Sullivan, a conservative political activist who has used allegations against Powers to accuse his political opponents of graft and corruption. Sullivan—currently under investigation himself by the Texas Ethics Commission—cites an unidentified “whistleblower” as having precipitated the latest threat to Powers’ job security. Any evidence of direct wrongdoing by Powers, including alleged mishandling of admissions, has yet to be made public.

Powers’ was first rumored to be on the chopping block in 2011, when the strained relationship between Powers and some regents became public. UT regent Wallace Hall has been the focus of a yearlong legislative investigation into his unusual and potentially illegal probes of UT-Austin.

A number of other people have added to the growing national conversation overnight. Here are some highlights:

  • Former Longhorn baseball player John Curtiss vouched for Powers in an op-ed published by the Houston Chronicle and the Texas Tribune‘s TribTalk site. In it, the 2014 Capital One Academic All-American argued that Powers alone does not make the university great, but that his influence has been positive, and by association, ousting Powers would hurt UT.
  • International relations scholar and Foreign Policy contributor Daniel Drezner wrote about the ongoing saga for the Washington Post in terms of state and national politics. Describing the tension as “[Gov.] Rick Perry’s war on the University of Texas,” Drezner contrasts Perry’s claims of President Obama’s executive overreach with Perry’s own use of gubernatorial power.
  • In the The Chronicle on Higher Education, Hunter Rawlings, the president of the prestigious American Association of Universities [AAU] called Texas’ current higher education reform debate an “appalling mess.” Rawlings has consistently defended Powers, who serves as the current chair of the AAU.
  • The editorial board at the Dallas Morning News also criticized Cigarroa’s handling on the situation. Following suit with the Austin American-Statesman, whose editorial board has also backed Powers, the News called Cigarroa’s reasoning for his ultimatum to Powers “thin gruel.”
  • The conservative political blog, which has steadfastly defended Hall, came out with a tag team duo of anti-Powers pieces. In the one, contributor William Murchison claims that the “venomous language” in the Powers’ “kerfuffle” is largely attributable to Powers’ backers before launching into a somewhat bizarre dissection of a cherry-picked selection of comments from the “Save Bill Powers” petition (or “i-petition” as Murchison calls it).
  • In another Watchdog piece, anti-Powers beat reporter Jon Cassidy writes that a June Texas Tribune story that revealed tense emails on the subject of a proposed meeting between Hall and outgoing admission director Kedra Ishop should spell disaster for Powers.

You can read the full letters below. Can’t see the letters? Click here.

Student Body Leaders Defend Powers

Letter to Chancellor & Board from SG President Kornel Rady

Photo by Sandy Carson.


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