As past and current student leaders at the University of Texas at Austin, we have followed the controversy surrounding certain members of the UT System Board of Regents and our president, William Powers Jr., for over three years.
We attended the Board of Regents meeting in December 2013 while studying for finals during a closed-door session. Sitting and waiting for hours longer than expected to hear Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s recommendation regarding Powers’ employment was extremely stressful and tense. We were relieved to hear his support for Powers as we sat in a room full of students, alumni, prominent officials and Powers himself. Yet despite recommending that Powers remain the president of UT-Austin just six months ago, it has been reported that Cigarroa delivered an ultimatum to Powers on July 2 to resign immediately or be fired Thursday. Worst of all, delivering the ultimatum during a holiday-shortened week in the middle of the summer certainly appears to be an attempt to remove Powers while few are on campus to respond.
As former UT System general counsel Barry Burgdorf said in his testimony before the House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations last year, it was the “clear intent” of some regents to “get rid of Bill Powers” as UT’s president. It is clear that this latest salvo is yet another attempt by those who do not have the best interests of the University at heart. Their methods have succeeded only in detracting from our mission of educating students to be the leaders of tomorrow and carrying out cutting-edge research expected of a tier one University.
The students are the lifeblood of this university. This ultimatum does not serve our best interests. Instead, it disrespects a successful university president who has continuously directed UT to epitomize a “university of the first class.”
The students of UT-Austin have continually made our position clear. In response to a similar situation last year, the Senate of College Councils and Student Government passed Joint Resolution 1, “In Support of President Powers’ Vision for the University of Texas at Austin.” This support is unchanged, and we are disheartened and disappointed by Cigarroa’s ultimatum. For this action to be perpetrated by a chancellor who has already announced his resignation, and while the University is quiet for the summer, reveals its self-destructive motives. To date, no reason has been provided by Cigarroa as to why the ultimatum was delivered, but it is clear why it is injudicious.
Powers has proved his commitment and his ability to serve as an outstanding leader time and time again. He spearheaded the first core curriculum reform in 25 years and created the School of Undergraduate Studies. He is leading an unprecedented $3 billion dollar capital campaign. He was selected by his peers to serve as the Chairman of the Association of American Universities, an immense honor that brings pride to our University. Through President Powers’ leadership, UT-Austin has been ranked No. 27 in the world by Times Higher Education. As we look to the future, he is in the process of creating the first medical school at a tier one university in several decades. His tenure as president has been consistently filled with success that has vaulted UT into the arena of the world’s elite universities, all during the most trying times higher education has ever seen.
These accomplishments do not go unnoticed at our University.
After news of this ultimatum broke, we started a petition in support of Powers that has received over 6,000 signatures during a holiday weekend. The Faculty Council has called an emergency meeting for Wednesday to reiterate its unequivocal support for Powers with the chairwoman noting that faculty are as unanimous as she has seen in 27 years in their support. Newly minted president of the Texas Exes, former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, notified all Texas Exes that “a forced resignation or firing would be a travesty for UT” and alumni should “stand up and fight” for the University’s stature. Students too have expressed their support for Powers in large numbers on social media. Even after an attempt to minimize exposure of this ultimatum, Longhorns everywhere have rallied in a powerful way.
The Board of Regents should remember that its fiduciary duty is to do what is best for UT-Austin. Let our message be clear: Powers is what is best for our University, and he deserves much better. It is now more important than ever that Longhorns everywhere come together and stand with Powers.
Jerath is president of the Senate of College Councils. Clark is president emeritus of the Senate of College Councils. Rady is president of Student Government. Villarreal is president emeritus of Student Government.