Fenves as UT president signals promising new beginning

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Austin

As a third-year student, I would argue that current University President William Powers Jr. plays a large yet figurative role in the student psyche.  

As the leader of the University, Powers has not only been a symbol to students but also our primary advocate. While I am sad to see Powers go, I do not mourn. Though the media coverage of the search for Powers’ successor has billed Greg Fenves, our likely next president, as a last resort, we would be wrong to judge him so soon. Powers did not become a campus symbol overnight. 

To discount Fenves’ appointment as anything other than fitting would be grossly inappropriate considering the scope of his University achievements.  

In his short tenure as provost and executive vice president, Fenves has united University department heads and invested himself in on-campus innovations. Fenves spearheaded an administrative innovation called “Campus Conversations” that has bridged the gap between faculty leaders in the humanities and sciences and given a greater voice to students. This speaks volumes about his respect for all colleges and people on campus. Fenves has also taken an active role in the creation of the Dell Medical School, the success of which will take UT to the next level as a top-tier national institute. 

Before becoming provost, Fenves led impressive and dogged campaigns for University improvement as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering.  

He oversaw the creation of a master facility plan, which outlined six new buildings for the engineering school and played a key role as the school pursued fundraising for the Engineering Education and Research Center. As engineering dean, Fenves also raised more than $350 million for the University’s $3 billion capital fundraising campaign, more than any other college. As a result of his many accomplishments, Fenves was invited to join the National Academy of Engineering, which is the highest honor awarded to engineers in the United States. 

Additionally, Fenves’ close relationship with Powers, the man in the Tower, has set him up for success. 

In his year and half as provost, Fenves has worked closely with Powers and is likely far more capable of taking over in June than any of the other finalists, UT-Dallas president David Daniel and Andrew Hamilton, former vice-chancellor of Oxford University.  

Fenves has been part and parcel to Powers’ mission over the last year and a half. This may be a point of contention for UT System Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr., who voted against appointing Fenves on Friday and remarked to reporters after the vote, “I guess our tagline is, ‘What starts here stays the same,’ as opposed to ‘What starts here changes the world.” Regents Brenda Pejovich and Alex Cranberg joined Hall in voting against Fenves.  

Though Hall, who is known to have tangled with Powers over admissions practices, fundraising and other matters, may disagree with the board’s choice, it should be a comfort to students. Fenves has had the fortune of getting to work closely with Powers and learn the ins and outs of the job without muddying his hands with the controversies that have plagued Powers’ last years in office. 

There is no one better equipped to smoothly transition into the president’s office. It is clear to me that Fenves has gone above and beyond in terms of counting accomplishments, and I expect him to be as duty-bound a president as he has been in every other aspect of his service to the University of Texas.

Smith is a history and humanities junior from Austin. Follow Smith on Twitter @claireseysmith.