UT System Chancellor William McRaven has come under fire lately for his perceived failures and mismanagement of the system administration. This comes as his contract is set to expire at the end of this year, leading to questions regarding his future employment. Critics say he is out of touch with students and faculty, while supporters believe that his military background and strong advocacy on behalf of the UT System have earned him an extended stay.
McRaven’s military track record is impeccable. He became famous for leading the Navy SEAL operation that caught Osama bin Laden. He showed a soft touch as well, personally visiting an Afghan family to apologize for a special operations mission that killed several non-combatants. His graduate thesis was turned into a book that’s still used by the Navy SEALs 20 years later due to its expert analysis of special operations.
This record gives Chancellor McRaven something that’s hard to command of politicians — respect. His first act upon taking office was to speak out strongly in opposition to campus carry. When a four-star admiral comes out in opposition, it’s hard to write him off as just another liberal gun-grabber. He also provided powerful testimony in defense of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), saying that providing in-state tuition for undocumented students “is the morally right thing to do.” This past legislative session, he successfully lobbied against measures that tried to decrease university funding and freeze tuition at public universities.
Not all of his work has been with the legislature. In 2016, the UT system announced the implementation of their own “Rooney Rule,” meaning that one person from an underrepresented group has to be interviewed for all senior administrative positions. Under McRaven’s leadership, the UT System launched the most thorough investigation of college sexual assaults to date. The UT System also banned tobacco on all campuses. In addition, both UT-Arlington and UT-Dallas have achieved “Tier One” status with McRaven at the helm. Admissions procedures have improved as well, with the UT System announcing that it would take measures to ensure military veterans were given priority status, and UT-Austin winning its Supreme Court battle to maintain its affirmative action program.
Chancellor McRaven’s stint has come with growing pains. He faced sharp bipartisan criticism from legislators over plans to open a UT System campus in Houston. Plans, Houston area lawmakers alleged, the UT System didn’t do enough to inform them of. It would be nice to see him reverse course on the top 10 percent rule, which has been the cause of heavy debate since its enactment in 1997. McRaven’s stringent opposition to the rule stems from his desire to see UT-Austin pick its own students, which would raise university prestige and improve its standing in the oh so all-important U.S. News and World Report rankings. To do so, however, could reduce UT’s racial and economic diversity and reduce access to the state’s flagship school for marginalized students.
Nevertheless, Chancellor McRaven has shown himself to be committed to Texas’ most important public institutions. His work to improve diversity in hiring, retain the colleges’ right to self-regulate tuition, and advocate for the progressive ideals important to students shows that he is more than qualified to continue serving as chancellor.
Price is a government sophomore from Austin. Follow him on Twitter @price_zach.