Editor’s Note: Associate Editor Noah Horwitz currently works with Jason Fuller, Hutchison's former regional director. Horwitz was not involved in any way in the planning, writing or editing of this editorial.
Last Monday Kay Bailey Hutchison was named president of the Texas Exes, UT’s 100,000-member alumni association. It came to us as a pleasant surprise that the former United States Senator had found a way to re-establish a personal relationship with the University from which she graduated twice and for which she has fought across her career.
The position of president of the Exes brings with it a number of challenges. Unlike most public university alumni associations, the Exes are not officially affiliated with the University. That frees the group from restrictions on petitioning the Legislature and thus broadens the scope of its leadership. Scarcely can its president shy away from the spotlight and hang his or her hat on the title. In addition to making the rounds of the private donor circuit, the organization’s chief fundraiser must also work the political machine inside the Capitol, firing the cylinders of philanthropic muscle while also greasing the wheels of checks-and-balances friction.
That friction, while to a certain extent inevitable, has increased as a result of the past few years of discord between the Legislature and the University. Two sessions ago, legislators made massive cuts to higher education appropriations that sent the University reeling. Since then, those wrongs have been partially righted, but the wound of the Wallace Hall-initiated public relations disaster has been torn open in its place. The UT System regent has been in the news for more than a year for his sweeping open records requests of the University and now his possible impeachment. In addition, just last week it was reported that UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa had given an ultimatum to our very popular president, William Powers Jr., to resign or risk being fired.
With the terrain rockier than ever, Hutchison will have to exercise great finesse to find her footing in the new position. However, we expect she will rise to the occasion with ease thanks to her decades of experience in the U.S. Senate and her tireless advocacy for both the state of Texas as a whole as well as higher education more specifically. Already, she has shown her leadership skills and commitment to the University by condemning Cigarroa's recent actions in an email to the Exes.
During her time in the Senate, Hutchison unabashedly sought to maximize the state’s take of federal dollars for local projects. While this earned her scorn from some in her own party, she never backed down from her commitment to the people of Texas, casting her divergence from the dominant anti-earmarking sentiment of the Republican Party as a safer bet than leaving the state at the mercy of federal bureaucrats.
More importantly, though, Hutchison understands the importance of statesmanship and compromise. While she always disliked being labeled a moderate, it seemed the only fitting descriptor for a senator who eschewed hyperpartisan brinkmanship and embraced across-the-aisle outreach at a time of increasing division, bitterness and rancor.
We think the skills Hutchison displayed in Washington, and more recently here in Texas, will serve her well in her work for the 40 Acres. The University needs them now more than ever.