That is the only way to describe the recent actions of UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who just one week ago called President William Powers Jr. into System headquarters in downtown Austin to issue him an ultimatum: resign now, effective at the end of October, or be fired by the Board of Regents at its Thursday meeting.
It wasn’t the first hiccup in the relationship between the popular Powers and the rightly maligned System. In 2008, Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed the current batch of regents (some of whom voted to hire Cigarroa in 2009) and has an undeniable role in shaping their opinions, enthusiastically declared his support for former adjunct business professor, friend and donor Jeff Sandefer’s “Seven Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education.” As soon as Powers made known his disagreement with Sandefer’s business-minded proposals, which were wholly inappropriate for a university of UT’s caliber, he became an enemy of not just the governor, but by extension the regents and the chancellor.
In the past year or so, Cigarroa has acted as the messenger in attempting to secure Powers' departure on more than one occasion. Last summer, he asked Powers to resign but Powers rightly refused. This time around Powers has offered to resign by next June, after the legislative session is over.
And yet despite Powers' willingness to compromise, Cigarroa — a lame duck who announced his forthcoming resignation in February — has soldiered on with the misguided and destructive assault on a president who has brought great pride and honor to this University through his impressive fundraising efforts, establishment of the first Tier One medical school in decades and chairmanship of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It may be tempting to brush aside the chancellor’s most recent actions as typical System chest-thumping, but one source has told us that while Powers has successfully defended himself against previous such attacks, “this one feels more real.”
The reason the chancellor has continued to pursue Powers' ouster is not entirely clear. While Cigarroa released a statement Monday night placing the blame on a “breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the University," the drastic move from a departing chancellor seems to suggest additional pressures, whatever they may be.
Perry and his cronies on the Board of Regents, particularly Regent Wallace Hall, who faces possible impeachment for his sweeping open records requests of the University and for possibly mishandling private student information, are hell-bent on destroying the academic freedom and autonomy of this University. Hall, a radical anti-intellectual who seems to believe that an institution such as the University of Texas at Austin should be converted into a second-rate trade school, now appears ready to complete his coup d’etat.
Powers is supported by the vast majority of students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders in the University. For proof, look no further than the student petition in support of Powers that has gathered nearly 14,000 signatures since it was created last Friday, the special Faculty Council meeting being held today to demonstrate professors' support, the letters student leaders have sent letters to System officials or the march they are planning from Republic Square Park to the regents' meeting on Thursday morning. Powers has taken the University to new heights, and this is how his superiors repay him?
It’s absolutely shameful and the regents must recognize it.
That’s why we are urging the regents to not take any adverse action against Powers. We further beg the student body to continue to let their voices on this important matter be heard. UT is truly better than this; we all are.
This editorial has been updated to clarify the grounds for Hall's impeachment.