Greg Fenves named sole finalist for UT presidency

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Austin

The UT System Board of Regents voted Friday to select Greg Fenves, UT executive vice president and provost, as the sole finalist to become the next UT president.

If approved, Fenves will replace outgoing President William Powers Jr., whose relationship with the Board has been tumultuous for the last several years. The Board must wait 21 days before making an official appointment. 

Fenves came to UT as a civil engineering assistant professor in 1984 and served as dean for the Cockrell School of Engineering from 2008 to 2013. In his capacity as provost, Fenves has been responsible for academic, research and curriculum affairs, as well as resource allocation for faculty recruitment. Working with deans and other academic officials, Fenves also oversees planning and operations for libraries, museums, collections, and research centers.

Sharon Wood, who succeeded Fenves as engineering school dean, said she first met Fenves when he was a faculty member at the University of California-Berkeley nearly 25 years ago.

“I was very taken aback at his very strong vision. He articulated it very well — where he wanted the department to go and what targets they had,” Wood said.

Since his appointment as provost in October 2013, Fenves has worked closely with Powers on a variety of University initiatives. At Friday’s meeting, three of the regents who have been most vocal in their criticism of Powers — Wallace Hall, Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich — all voted against Fenves.

Board Chairman Paul Foster said he felt the dissenting voices speak well to the Board’s decision-making process.

“I think it’s wonderful that we have a diverse board and that we don’t rubber stamp any issues,” Foster said. “We thoroughly vet every issue and all of our regents feel completely comfortable expressing their views.”

Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, president of the Texas Exes, said the selection committee favored Fenves after it interviewed him for the president position. Fenves was one of three main candidates in the search, alongside current UT-Dallas President David Daniel and Oxford University Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton. Hamilton, who was widely reported to be the front-runner, announced he was taking a position as president at New York University early last week. 

“[Fenves] had a wonderful interview with the selection committee, and he was a top choice,” Hutchison said. “I think the Texas Exes are going to be very pleased because he has overwhelming support from the people that sent me their recommendations.”

Wood said she knows Fenves has a strong work ethic, as demonstrated by his early rising habits.

“I used to joke with him — I get up very early because I exercise before work, and so if I ever want to catch Greg, I know that five in the morning is the best time to send him an email,” Wood said. “I know I’ll get a response back immediately.”

In light of budget shortfalls in the state government, Jefferson Coombs, executive director of the Cal Alumni Association, said Fenves would be able to provide strong support for continued funding at UT.

“At this time when public research universities face a lot of challenges in terms of funding from the state, I think he’s a fantastic advocate for the impact and the power and the importance of public higher education,” Coombs said.

Coombs said he believes Fenves will continue and build upon Powers’ goal of maintaining clear lines of communication with the UT community.

“I really get the impression that he is going to not just maintain strong dialogue with students. I get the impression that he wants to expand it and that he is very personally enthusiastic about the connection with students,” Coombs said.

As provost, Fenves has helped lead the effort to launch the Dell Medical School and greenlight construction on the Engineering Education and Research Center, a $310 million, 430,000-square-foot building dedicated to research and student projects. The building is slated for completion in 2017.

Fenves serves on multiple committees at UT, including the Dean Search and the Dell Medical School Steering committees.

He has also received numerous national awards, including the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, and from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Walter L. Huber Research Prize, the Moisseiff Award, and the J. James R. Croes Medal.