After days of speculation, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and President William Powers Jr. agreed to set Powers’ resignation date for June 2, 2015, giving him almost 11 months to complete his remaining goals for the University.
On July 2, Cigarroa requested Powers resign by October — a timetable that Cigarroa said would allow Powers to finish both his $3 billion fundraising campaign and his chairmanship of the Association of American Universities. In a letter to Cigarroa on July 4, Powers said he would prefer to leave at the end of the 2015 legislative session.
News of Cigarroa’s request to Powers broke on July 4 after it was leaked out to multiple media outlets by unnamed sources. Students, faculty and alumni voiced their support for Powers in reaction. Student leaders started a petition and planned a march. Faculty Council called an emergency meeting to rally support for Powers. Newly minted Texas Exes President Kay Bailey Hutchison released a statement with the alumni association’s chairman calling Powers’ potential firing “a travesty.”
Some state legislators also expressed support for Powers and the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations co-chairs asked the regents on Monday not to remove him, citing the committee’s investigation into Regent Wallace Hall.
Before the unexpected decision on July 9, Cigarroa had said he would discuss Powers’ employment with the Board of Regents at the board’s July 10 meeting. While Cigarroa has called Powers time at the University “superb,” he has said repeatedly that his decision is not related to one particular instance, but rather his overall difficult relationship with Powers.
“From my perspective, it’s an issue of ‘Can we trust each other with communications without it going viral?’” Cigarroa said after the July 10 board meeting. “Because it’s really hard to have a productive relationship when a chancellor and a president can’t have discussion on sensitive matters.”
After the news was announced at the emergency Faculty Council meeting July 9, Powers said he was pleased with the agreement.
“We have a great faculty and a great group of students. I’m humbled and gratified by all the work we’ve done together and your support,” Powers said. “This is a career path that makes sense for our family.”
After the meeting, Student Government President Kori Rady said he believes Cigarroa’s decision to keep Powers on until June 2015 was influenced by the support shown by students, faculty and alumni.
“He received massive support from every entity,” Rady said. “I really think that made the difference, and, of course, I think it’s very difficult to fire someone based on communication differences if that person has that amount of support.”
With Powers’ end date fixed, Chairman Paul Foster expressed disappointment with “insulting and disparaging comments” sent to Cigarroa over the past week and called on the board, System and University to move forward at the July 10 meeting.
“I sincerely hope we never revisit this unfortunate chapter in the history of this great state,” Foster said. “There’s much good work to be done and the state and the nation are watching, and the future is bright.”
After the meeting, both Foster and Cigarroa refused to identify who sent the comments but said they were not threatening and were from parties and individuals outside the board.
Foster, who said he was pleased Cigarroa and Powers agreed July 9 to set Powers’ resignation for June 2015, also asked the Texas Legislature not to try influencing board decisions.
“The point is the board has a role. It’s not political. We’re not politicians,” Foster said after the meeting. “I believe we should be left alone to do our business.”
Clarifying, Foster said he was not criticizing the transparency committee’s investigation into Hall or its right to do so.
The regents also approved recommendations from Cigarroa for improving admissions processes at System institutions. While presenting the recommendations, Cigarroa said his decision to ask Powers to resign was not related to the System’s investigation into the University’s admissions, which will be conducted by an outside firm.
Cigarroa recommended increasing transparency in admissions processes; namely, he proposed prohibiting the consideration of recommendation letters submitted outside the prescribed process in admissions decisions.
“What concerns me is how external input outside the formal admissions process is handled administratively and within the University of Texas,” Cigarroa said.
In May, a limited System inquiry into the University’s admissions determined there was no structured system of wrongdoing, but found instances in which letters of recommendations from legislator sent directly to Powers or a dean likely influenced admissions decisions. Noting its limited data pool, the inquiry also found letters from legislators were more likely to influence admissions decisions than others.
Search for the next president
Foster said he will form a search committee for Powers’ replacement in August. According to Cigarroa, the committee “will include representation of faculty, deans, students and community representatives of the University, as well as at least two current presidents from UT institutions and at least one member of the Board of Regents.”
Cigarroa announced his own resignation in February to return to practicing medicine at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. His replacement is expected to be announced before the start of the fall 2014 semester. With change ahead, Foster said he hopes the System and the University will start working better together at the July 10 meeting.
“Within a year, we will have a new chancellor and a new president at UT-Austin,” Foster said. “I sincerely hope that much sooner than that we also have a new collaborative and beneficial relationship with the various organizations who share our love for this great flagship university.”
Powers’ final months
With almost 11 months left as president, Powers will work to finish his $3 billion capital fundraising campaign and help bring the Dell Medical School closer to being ready for its launch in fall 2016, according to UT spokesman Gary Susswein.
Susswein said Powers will also work to improve the University’s four-year graduation rates. In 2012, Powers set a goal of pushing the University’s four-year graduation to 70 percent by 2016. Graduation rates from the classes of 2007 to 2013 have fluctuated between 50 and 52 percent.
In his July 4 letter, Powers also cited "implementing new and more efficient business models" as one of his goals. The University has slowly moved closer to implementing Shared Services centralization plan despite disapproval from some faculty members. In the letter, Powers also said the 2015 legislative session will have a significant impact on the University, particularly in setting its budget.
Powers will also work with Cigarroa and his successor to ensure a smooth transition for Powers’ replacement but will likely not be part of the search process, Susswein said. Powers himself said he will return to teaching at the School of Law after his term as president ends next year.
Additional reporting by YoungJee Jung and Christina Noriega.