More than two years after a controversial recommendation to close down the Cactus Cafe & Bar, University Unions executive director Andy Smith will retire from his position on Aug. 31 after 27 years with University Unions.
“I have great hopes for the new executive director,” Smith said. “[University Unions] will be left in good order. Our budget is in pretty good shape after taking cuts like everyone else.”
Smith said the position is an opportunity to help build on University Unions’ student life centers and its recent expansion.
University Unions recently overtook the management of the Student Services Building and Hogg Memorial Auditorium. University Unions already oversees the Texas Union, Student Activity Center and the Student Events Center.
Smith said the University hopes to hire a new executive director during the summer months to ease the transition.
In 2010, Smith was criticized for a proposal to close the Cactus Cafe & Bar, a historical live music performance venue opened in 1979 in the Texas Union.
The University Union Board of Directors supported Smith’s proposal to phase out the cafe and the UT Informal Classes program to save around $122,000 for a 2 percent staff pay increase during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 biennium.
Students, members of the Austin community and musicians opposed Smith’s recommendations and formed the Save the Cactus Cafe campaign, which garnered more than 8,500 supporters in a Facebook group created by UT staffer Wiley Koepp, who served on the nonprofit’s board of directors.
The University eventually announced Cactus Cafe would remain open in partnership with KUT Radio, which would financially support the venue. KUT hired a new manager to run the cafe, replacing former manager Griff Luneburg.
UT alumna Hayley Gillespie, a critic of Smith’s recommendation, was a graduate student in 2010 and said she worked with the Graduate Student Assembly and Save the Cactus Cafe to attempt to maintain the venue.
Gillespie said Luneburg dedicated his life to the venue only to be replaced after Smith’s proposal.
“I wish the people who made it a better place would get the retirement benefits Smith is going to receive,” Gillespie said.
Despite criticisms, Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, who oversees UT student life, said Smith was a leader who fulfilled his responsibilities during his time at the University.
Reagins-Lilly said the executive director is required to make many budgetary recommendations, and Smith worked very closely with the Dean of Students office when recommending the closing of Cactus Cafe.
“You never know, with any decision, how people will react,” Reagins-Lilly said. “[That year] is not central to his success.”
Responsibilities of the executive director include managing University Unions’ “student-centric business and service enterprise,” according to the job listing for the position posted on UT’s website.
Candidates for the position should have a master’s degree and 10 years of experience in a director role at a student facility.
Reagins-Lilly said the hiring committee, which will include student leaders, will consider internal and external applications.
Printed on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 as: University Unions director retires