UT System chancellor

Chancellor McRaven selects five finalists for student regent position

UT System Chancellor William McRaven has selected five finalists for the UT System Board of Regents student regent position, according to information obtained by The Daily Texan through the Texas Public Information Act.

The student regent, who will ultimately be selected by Gov. Greg Abbott, holds a nonvoting position on the UT System Board of Regents for a term that lasts a year. Though the two most recent student regents attended UT-Austin, none of the current finalists attend the University. McRaven recently sent his finalist selections to Abbott, who will choose the student regent before his or her term begins in June.

The five remaining applicants, according to the information obtained by the Texan, are Justin Drake, Ph.D. student in biochemistry and molecular biology at the UT Medical Branch at Galveston; Russell Hannigan, mathematics junior at UT-Dallas; Erika Long, advertising and public relations senior at UT-Arlington; Laura Santibanez, Ph.D. student in nursing at the UT Health Science Center–Houston; and Jefferson Schilder, global affairs junior at UT-San Antonio.

All five applicants emphasized different areas of focus in their application.

Drake is running on the basis of improving online education initiatives in the UT System, increasing collaboration between the UT branches and placing a focus on learning professional skills.

In Hannigan’s application, he said he hopes the UT System allocates more resources toward mental health initiatives, student safety and international student support.

Long said she would like the UT System to improve experiences for distant learners, provide better health services generally and provide increased financial aid for students and financial support for student organizations.

Santibanez stated in her application that she wants to help the UT System foster collaboration between branches, implement financial plans for the long-term development of health-care projects and support research, collaboration and commercialization of products from the branches.

Schilder said he hopes the UT System will improve veteran support systems, make campuses more accessible for students with disabilities, raise graduation rates and promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.  

The current UT System student regent, Max Richards, a government senior at UT-Austin, will leave his position at the beginning of June.

Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

UT System Chancellor William McRaven is calling on lawmakers to help fund a tuition exemption for veterans that resulted in a loss of $42.1 million in forgone tuition at UT System schools in the 2014 fiscal year.

The exemption was established as part of the Hazlewood Act, which grants veterans who are Texas residents 150 credit hours in return for their service. UT System universities pay for a tuition exemption for veterans who have served at least 181 days of active duty service. McRaven said without state support, the cost is passed on to other students. 

“When the state is not in the position to provide us those funds, then invariably it comes back and that goes on to other students that are coming in,” McRaven said.

At the end of January, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a Hazlewood provision which restricted eligibility to military veterans only if they served while a resident of Texas was unconstitutional. Under the new ruling, veterans from anywhere in the country can receive the tuition exemption at Texas universities as long as they establish Texas residency, a process that requires living in Texas for one year.

“When you look at the federal judge’s ruling, some of the cost figures I’ve seen — and again I can’t verify them — but I’ve seen costs up to $2 billion,” McRaven said. “So clearly, we can’t absorb that kind of money in terms of support for Hazlewood.”

Covering the cost of veteran tuition amounts to $169.1 million in waived revenue for universities across the state, according to a report prepared by the Legislative Budget Board.

In a conversation with the Texas Tribune on Feb. 5, McRaven said colleges and universities have expected the state to pay for veteran education for years, but the exemption has remained an unfunded mandate.

“There was an expectation that the state would pay for the cost of the exemption,” McRaven said. “But it has never happened.”

McRaven said educational opportunities for other students are hampered without the state funding.

“All we’re asking is that the state consider [funding Hazlewood] because if not, what happens is that money that had been expected from the state is now impacting our ability to educate other young men and women,” McRaven said.

Jeremiah Gunderson, interim director of student veteran services, said he expects the number of veterans enrolled at UT, as well as other institutions, to grow in the near future.

“I think we will see an increase because of the large number of veterans who are exiting the military,” Gunderson said. “They’re doing a huge drawdown in the military; I believe the Army alone is looking to draw down 80,000 troops. I think, in general, colleges and universities are seeing an influx of new veterans coming to school.”

McRaven said it is important to continue to provide educational opportunities to veterans despite the challenges of Hazlewood.

“I think we need to continue to support the Hazlewood as it stands right now, and I look forward to working with the service veteran’s organizations to find out the ways that I can help them at each of the universities,” McRaven said.

Gunderson said Hazlewood has encouraged many veterans to become the first in their family to attend a college or university.

“I think it’s an outstanding opportunity, and a lot of statistics have shown that many veterans are first generation college students,” Gunderson said.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

He didn't come to the dinner party.

That much we knew from the documents.

On Tuesday evening, the UT System Board of Regents confirmed Admiral William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, as the sole finalist for the position of UT System chancellor. Under state law, McRaven will have to wait at least 21 days, in this case until the regents' August meeting, to be officially appointed. McRaven is best known for leading the 2011 operation that took down Osama bin Laden and, more recently, for a rousing commencement address at UT last semester.

The decision didn't come as a surprise. News outlets across the state had been reporting the likely selection for days, many with clear signs of boredom and exhaustion.

However, back in May, the information about McRaven, which admittedly came by way of a leak, was much less available. When the Texan filed an open records request with the System for any and all documents regarding the admiral, it turned up nothing.

Nothing except a few water-cooler emails, one of which included the idea by Regent Gene Powell, approved by Chairman Paul Foster, to invite McRaven to a dinner party hosted by the regents and System staff at the Bauer House, the chancellor's official residence in West Austin.

McRaven didn't show up. More precisely, he couldn't come.

Luckily for him, the regents didn't mind.

Not so luckily for us, we still don't know how they made up their minds.

Since current Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced his resignation in February, the board has never once openly discussed his replacement, except to announce the hiring of an executive search firm to assist it. As evidenced by our meager haul from the May open records request, the regents know better than to put important information in a requestable format.

While we can't see that the regents have done anything illegal in this case, this sort of secrecy is all too common within the System, not just in the search for a new chancellor, but in its more general operations. Early this month, it was only through a leak to Breitbart Texas and several other outlets that the news of President William Powers Jr.’s potential firing became public. Powers was ultimately “spared” in the sense that Cigarroa accepted his offer to resign next June. And the ongoing drama between Powers and Cigarroa (as well as interloper Wallace Hall) has unfolded largely behind closed doors.

We understand that not all personnel discussions need to be made public. In fact, doing so would encumber both the regents and the public with an unrealistic expectation of openness in the case of the former and attentiveness in the case of the latter.

However, the chancellor is no pencil pusher. As the leader of the 15-campus University of Texas System, he or she serves as the face of a group of universities and health institutions with an operating budget of $14.6 billion. With such a great level of responsibility, the University community and taxpayers deserve more transparency in the selection process.

Unfortunately, the current regents do not seem likely to grant us that basic right. After all, if they exposed all the forces at play in their decisions, the already aggravated tensions between them and the public would likely be strained to the breaking point.

We don't necessarily dislike the regents' choice of McRaven, but we can't fully support a decision whose underpinnings we don't understand.

McRaven seems to have the near-universal support of the UT community, and although he is not an academic, the military has produced such great academic leaders as James Earl Rudder, former president of A&M and the A&M University System. Similarly, Robert Gates, not a military man but a former Secretary of Defense and director of the CIA, also served as president of A&M.

Thus it remains to be seen how McRaven will perform. He seems to have all the tools at his disposal to succeed, but until the regents and System lift the shroud of secrecy from his appointment, we cannot throw our full support behind it.

In this podcast, Jacob Kerr and Amanda Voeller discuss the news and events surrounding President William Powers Jr.'s resignation on July 9. They also talk about the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision on the Fisher v. UT case and candidates toreplace Francisco Cigarroa as UT System chancellor.

President William Powers Jr. embraces Martha Hilley, former Faculty Council chair, after the announcement that he will stay in his position until June 2, 2015 on Wednesday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

In an unexpected decision, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced President William Powers Jr. will remain in his position until June 2, 2015 in a statement on Wednesday.

Cigarroa previously requested on July 2 that Powers resign by October to coincide with the end of Powers’ $3 billion fundraising campaign and his chairmanship of the Association of American Universities. Instead, Powers requested that he be allowed to stay on until the end of the 2015 legislative session in a July 4 letter. In his statement on Wednesday, Cigarroa said keeping Powers until 2015 would allow for a smoother transition.

"President Powers, who has led great advancements for the University, has expressed a desire to remain in his position long enough to complete several important initiatives, lead the University through the upcoming legislative session, and allow for a smooth transition to new leadership," Cigarroa said. "I honor his commitment to UT Austin and agree that this is the best course forward."

Before his statement on Wednesday, Cigarroa had said he would discuss Powers' employment with the Board of Regents at a meeting on Thursday. 

According to Cigarroa, the System will begin a national search in August to replace Powers. Clairifying his statement on Monday, Cigarroa said his decision to ask for Powers' resignation was because an overall difficult relationship with Powers and not related to one particular issue.

"It is, however, time for an orderly change in leadership. While ultimately productive, the past years have not been without struggle and, at times, conflict and controversy," Cigarroa said. "There was no single incident that prompted my decision to ask President Powers for his resignation last week, but a long history of issues with communication, responsiveness and a willingness to collaborate."

Cigarroa's decision was first announced by Gregory Fenves, Univeristy executive vice president and provost, at an emergency Faculty Council meeting on Wednesday. 

“I want to thank the chancellor and Chairman Paul Foster for their leadership of the University of Texas System, working with President Powers, and of course, recognizing the contributions he has made to our great University,” Fenves said.

Before ending the meeting, Faculty Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of Powers. After the meeting, Powers said he was pleased with Cigarroa's decision.

"We have a great faculty and a great group of students. I'm humbled and gratified by all the work we've done together and your support," Powers said. "This is a career path that makes sense for our family."

In an email sent to students after the meeting, Powers said he would return to teaching at the School of Law after his term ends.

Prior to Fenves' announcement, Faculty Council members began taking turns voicing their support for Powers. During the meeting, English professor Alan Friedman said the faculty could boycott a new president if Powers were removed by the regents.

“I cannot imagine anyone else having done better or even as well,” Friedman said of Powers. “Certainly not someone imposed by those responsible for creating the crisis that has wracked the campus for the last several years.”

After the meeting, Student Government President Kori Rady said he believes the decision to continue Powers' presidency was influenced by the support shown by students, faculty, alumni and staff over the past few days.

“He received massive support from every entity,” Rady said. “I really think that made the difference, and of course I think it’s very difficult to fire someone based on communication differences if that person has that amount of support.”

A petition in support of Powers has reached more than 14,000 signatures as of Wednesday. Rady said Thursday's planned student march from Republic Square to the regents meeting will be canceled.

This article has been updated since its original publication.


Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

In a letter to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa on Wednesday, 17 student leaders at the University asked him to work with President William Powers Jr. on developing a timetable for Powers’ exit at the end of the 2015 legislative session.

Cigarroa, who asked Powers to resign on July 2, said he wanted to Powers to leave by October – coinciding with the end of Powers’ $3 billion fundraising campaign and his chairmanship of the Association of American Universities – in a statement released on Monday. In a July 4 letter to Cigarroa, Powers said he wanted to remain in his position until the conclusion of next year’s legislative session.

In their letter to Cigarroa, the student leaders said Powers’ leadership will be needed during that time.

“There is no doubt that the legislative session will be a critical time for our university and will require the guidance of an experienced leader who is knowledgeable about UT-Austin,” the student leaders said in the letter. “At this time, his removal would not only harm the students, faculty, and staff, but also harm the legacy and integrity of this great university.”

The letters authors include Student Government President Kori Rady, SG assembly Speaker Braydon Jones and Geetika Jerath, Senate of College Councils president. A separate letter asking that Powers not be immediately removed and signed by current and former SG presidents and vice presidents was sent to Cigarroa and the Board of Regents on Tuesday.

A petition in support of Powers has garnered 13,000 signatures.

In his statement, Cigarroa said his decision to ask Powers to resign was because of “a breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the university.” Cigarroa also said since he was unable to reach a mutual agreement with Powers and will discuss his employment with the regents at a meeting on Thursday.

Student leaders are planning a march from Republic Square to the meeting on Thursday morning at 8:15 a.m.


Student Leader Letter - In Support of Powers


In Support of Bill Powers - 2005-15 UT Austin Student Government Leadership

Francisco G. Cigarroa sits during a press conference where he stepped down from his position as UT System Chancellor on Feb. 10. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

In a statement on Monday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said his decision to ask President William Powers Jr. to resign was because of a "communication and trust" issue.

In the statement, Cigarroa said his relationship with Powers has been "difficult" since he became chancellor in 2009. At a Board of Regents in December 2013, Cigarroa recommended Powers remain in his position, but warned him to improve his relationship with the board. Since then, Cigarroa said in his statement, more issues have developed between the two.

"In recent days I have been accused of acting at the direction of the governor or some members of the Board of Regents in this decision and of taking steps that will ultimately damage UT Austin," Cigarroa said. "Nothing could be further from the truth.  I have supported Bill Powers consistently for the last five years, but this latest decision originates with the UT System’s Office of Academic Affairs and my office and is based on a breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the university."

In a letter to Cigarroa, Powers said on July 4 he wanted to leave at the end of the 2015 legislative session rather than in October, as Cigarroa requested. In his statement, Cigarroa said he was unable to reach a mutual decision on a exit timetable for Powers and will discuss the issue with the regents at a meeting on Thursday.

In June, Cigarroa announced the System would hire an outside firm to conduct an investigation into the University's admissions process. In May, a limited System inquiry into legislative influence over admissions at the University  found no structured system of wrongdoing but determined letters of recommendation sent directly to Powers or a dean likely influenced admissions in certain instances.

Cigarroa did not cite in his statement a specific reason for his decision or mention whether it is connect to the Univeristy's admissions.

Cigarroa announced his own resignation in February to return to practicing medicine at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. He will remain in his position until his replacement is selected.


Students, faculty, alumni express support for Powers in response

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Update (July 6, 11:03 p.m.): Powers' letter in response to Cigarroa's request for his resignation was obtained and published by the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday.

In the letter written on Friday, Powers said he would not resign immediately but was willing to discuss a timeline for exiting after the 2015 legislative session.

“Throughout my tenure, I have always striven to act in the best interests of the University,” Powers said. “I believe a graceful rather than abrupt departure after nine years in office is in keeping with that."

Original Story: UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told President William Powers Jr. he must resign from his position or be removed by the Board of Regents at an upcoming meeting, according to media reports on Friday.

According to The Texas Tribune and the Austin American-Statesman, anonymous sources said Powers must resign before next week’s Board of Regents meeting on July 10. The sources said Powers declined to do so but was willing to discuss a timeline for exiting. UT spokesman Gary Susswein declined to comment.

The reports come weeks after the System announced in June it would hire an outside firm to conduct an investigation into UT’s admissions process.

In May, the System released findings of its own limited investigation into legislative influence over admissions. That inquiry, conducted by two System officials, found no evidence of structured system of wrongdoing, but determined instances where letters from legislators sent directly to Powers or a dean likely influenced the admissions process.

In light of the reports, students, faculty and alumni have voiced their support for Powers. After speaking with the parties involved, Texas Exes President Kay Bailey Hutchison and Chairman Charles Matthews confirmed the reports in a letter sent to members of the alumni association on Sunday. Hutchison and Matthews called Powers “a great leader” and said his removal would be harmful to the University.

“A forced resignation or firing would be a travesty for UT,” Hutchison and Matthews said. “It would cause further tension with legislators regarding UT System, would compound unrest among faculty, students, and alumni, and invoke serious harm to the institution’s reputation in the national spotlight.”

Hutchison and Matthews said they were hopeful Cigarroa and Powers would be able to agree on a “succession plan.” On Friday, the Faculty Council Executive Committee also released a statement in support of Powers.

"On behalf of the General Faculty of UT Austin, the Faculty Council Executive Committee unanimously reiterates its strong support for the presidency of William Powers who, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, has fulfilled his position with distinction," the committee said. "He has greatly enhanced the quality and stature of the institution's undergraduate education, its graduate programs, its research mission, its commitment to medical education and care, and its service to the community and to higher education generally."

While some students and alumni have voiced their support and shared a petition on social media, Student Government President Kori Rady said he is worried about how the timing of the decision will affect student input.

"I've always been a large supporter of President Powers," Rady said. "Something I'm concerned with, especially from a student perspective, is that these decisions are being made during times that students aren't really in town. Students aren't able to be the most active in voicing their opinions."

At a board meeting in December 2013, Cigarroa recommended Powers remain in his position but warned him to improve his relationship with the regents.

Cigarroa announced his own resignation in February to return to practicing medicine at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Cigarroa will remain in his position until his replacement is selected.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

In an email to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, Paul Foster, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, suggested Regent Wallace Hall accused Cigarroa of not doing his job weeks before Cigarroa announced his resignation. 

Foster praised Cigarroa in the email, which was originally obtained by The Dallas Morning News, and said “virtually all” of the regents appreciated the work he did as chancellor. 

“I absolutely do not agree with [Hall’s] tactics in trying to pressure you into taking an action that you do not feel is in the best interests of UT-Austin or of the UT System,” Foster said in the email. “It is clear what he hopes to accomplish, but to disparage your reputation in the process is neither fair nor is it appropriate.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, a member of the legislative committee investigating Hall, submitted a letter Friday to State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, after he saw the email, asking them to reconvene to hear testimony from Cigarroa and Foster. 

Flynn and Alvarado are co-chairs of the House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which is trying to determine whether Hall overstepped his duties as a regent and whether he should be recommended for impeachment. Hall filed open records requests with UT for more than 800,000 pages of information and has been accused of conducting a “witch hunt” to oust President William Powers Jr.

Martinez Fischer said Foster’s email raises questions about Cigarroa’s true motive for resigning, and testimony from Cigarroa and Foster could provide the committee with answers. In December 2013, Cigarroa testified in front of the committee and said Hall’s actions were disruptive to the System and caused a drop in morale.

Alvarado said the committee will consider Martinez Fischer’s request, but no decision has been reached about reconvening.  

“I have not talked to the other committee members or my co-chair about [the letter], but it’s something that I hope we will have discussions about,” Alvarado said. “We were hoping our report would be done soon, but, again, we have stressed all along that we are not in a rush. We want to make sure that we’re being thorough and that we don’t leave anything uncovered.” 

In February, Martinez Fischer sent a different letter to the committee co-chairs addressing his concerns about Cigarroa’s true motives for stepping down, especially in light of other System employees resigning — including Barry Burgdorf, who resigned as the System’s general counsel in March 2013.

“I am concerned that, without proper leadership and experienced staff, there will be continued communication and administrative issues between the Board of Regents and the component institutions of the System,” Martinez Fischer wrote in February.

In February, Cigarroa said he is resigning as Chancellor in order to pursue medicine full time. He said the existing tension between the board and Powers did not factor into his decision.

“As it relates to President Powers, this decision is completely separate from that,” Cigarroa said. “I will continue to do my work as chancellor every day until my last day, as I’ve always done, based on facts and performance. I support President Powers, and I will continue to evaluate all presidents every day.”

In this week's podcast, Jacob Kerr, Amanda Voeller and guests Bobby Blanchard and Madlin Mekelburg discuss UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa's resignation and the upcoming student elections. They also talk about Austin City Council's vote on "stealth dorms."