Faculty, students unite in support of Powers

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The UT Faculty Council passed a unanimous resolution of support for President William Powers Jr. at a special meeting Monday. This is one of the many demonstrations of support Powers has received since rumors of his termination surfaced.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Updated on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 4:29 p.m.

On the heels of a recent blog post claiming the UT System Board of Regents plans to fire President William Powers Jr., the Faculty Council passed a resolution supporting the president and his administration Monday.

More than 300 faculty, students and members of the UT community attended the special meeting in the packed beyond capacity room, and the resolution passed with 45 in favor, no objections and one abstention.

The vote of support is one of many Powers has received in the last few days after a blog post by Paul Burka, a Texas Monthly executive editor, on the publication’s website. Burka, citing an anonymous source, reported Powers was getting fired for voicing his disappointment over the regents' failure to adopt his tuition recommendations.

Powers has also received support from the official UT alumni organization Texas Exes as well as the three legislative student organizations on campus.

At the meeting, Powers said he was thankful for the support he has received and affirmed UT has the most wonderful faculty, students and staff. He also said leadership at the University is crucial.

“I plan to be around [next fall],” Powers said. “It’s sometimes a challenging job but it’s a rewarding job. These are challenging times for higher education across the state.”

Although Powers said there were some rumors he would try to address, he did not address Burka's allegations over his termination.

English professor Snehal Shingavi was the only member who abstained from voting at the meeting. Shingavi said it was dangerous for the faculty’s support of Powers to be coupled with tuition increases.

“There is an unfortunate narrative in Texas that presents faculty as living off the fat of tuition,” Shingavi said. “It’s important not to connect these two. I abstained from voting because I understood the importance of having a unified vote.”

In his December proposal to the board, Powers recommended a 2.6 percent tuition increase for resident undergraduates and a 3.6 percent increase to all other students. The board, which has been charged with setting tuition since 2004, chose to modify rather than adopt Powers’ recommendations. It rejected the 2.6 percent increase on in-state undergraduate tuition for two years and instead opted to freeze tuition.

Shingavi said having separate resolutions on tuition increases and the support for Powers would have been easier to consider, but that he still does not know if he would have voted in favor of it.

Ethnic studies senior Lucian Villasenor spoke out against the resolution at the meeting and said many students who attended the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee meetings last year were against tuition increases. Villasenor said he does not think sending Powers to advocate for more funding from the Texas Legislature will be a successful strategy.

“The solution is not going to come from the UT administration,” Villasenor said. “We need to tell the regents we’re not going to play these political games.”

Burka also attended the meeting and said he stands by what he wrote in his blog last Wednesday. He said the temperature was hot when he first published his findings and the situation has cooled down at the moment.

“I think everyone needs to remember that if [Gov. Rick Perry] is going to involve himself in the decisions that belong to administration, it will hurt the reputation and academic stature of UT,” Burka said. “If, for example, President Powers would lose his job, I think it would be a black eye on UT and would damage administration and faculty recruitment for years to come.”

Last week, a spokeswoman for Perry said the governor has had no involvement in plans to fire Powers. According to The Texas Tribune, Perry's Chief of Staff Jeff Boyd sent an email in March to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Board Chairman Gene Powell expressing his opposition to any tuition increase and his belief UT should be able to find priority funding through other inefficiencies.

Perry appointed all current regents. 

Burka also said if the regents chose to fire Powers, then the response would be similar to when regents fired UT President Homer Rainey in 1944 after he spoke of his grievances against them. Although some believe the regents fired Rainey for his disagreement, they did not cite an official reason. In response to Rainey’s firing, the American Association of University Professors, as well as other higher education organizations, censored UT for 10 years to discourage higher education professionals from working at the University.

Faculty Council chairman Alan Friedman said he was delighted to see the outpouring of support for Powers at the meeting, and the number of people attending was unprecedented. He said although there were some people who did not support the resolution present, the majority was almost entirely in support of Powers.

“The regents and the chancellor need to know about what happened and need to be very cautious about taking any steps regarding this campus,” Friedman said. “UT would take any unilateral action at the president as an attack.”

After the meeting, the presidents of the Senate of College Councils, Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly delivered a letter to the UT System office affirming their support of Powers.

“We will always fight against changes that could damage our institution,” the letter read. “While we respect the Board of Regents’ ability to make leadership changes, the students at UT-Austin have made it perfectly clear where they stand. We stand with President Powers.”

The students from the three legislative student organizations launched a postcard campaign over the weekend in support of Powers and will continue to gather signatures for the campaign this week.