Paul Burka

Just a little more than four hours after Senior Executive Editor Paul Burka broke news on the Texas Monthly website that UT President William Powers Jr. might be in jeopardy of losing his job, graduate student Rachel Meyerson created “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS,” a Facebook group in support of Powers’ position.

“Past student body president Keshav Rajagopalan and I were watching as Facebook and Twitter began blowing up with concern and support for President Powers,” Meyerson said. “We thought to ourselves, ‘How can we garner this support into one unified, strong response?’ That’s when we decided to create the Facebook group.”

Rajagopalan said the Facebook group, which now has more than 11,500 members, has been used as a means of communication and as a forum for dialogue about higher education issues in Texas.

The group’s wall has received a range of posts, from serious to lighthearted. There are posts simply stating alliance to Powers, like influential 1937 UT alumna Margaret C. Berry, who has served the University for more than 50 years. Others are less serious posts that parody the situation. One member posted on the page that Powers is the hero UT deserves: “He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight” — a reference to the Christopher Nolan Batman film franchise. Another member of the group compares the situation to Harry Potter, stating Powers is “Albus Dumbledore,” Rick Perry is “Dolores Umbridge” and the Facebook group is “Dumbledore’s Army.”

Rajagopalan said after the blog post on Texas Monthly he noticed the news went viral on Facebook and Twitter and the group attracted those who support and do not support President Powers.

“It was a lot of fun to watch things kind of take off that night and I think it’s been really fun to see the continued dialogue and discussion,” Rajagopalan said.

Rajagopalan said he even saw students and alumni who were against increasing tuition rally to the group to support Powers, the very issue which Burka’s blog post claimed threatened Powers’ job as President.

“People came out and said ‘I’m against increase but I still support the president and his vision for excellence,’” Rajagopalan said. “From reading a lot of the dialogue on the group and exchanging emails, I think people, no matter what, were disturbed by some of the politics that were mixed into these issues.”

He said the group was not made as a statement about tuition, but instead was made in support of Powers.

But the social media response to Burka’s blog post received a social media response of its own.

A reporter from the Texas Tribune tweeted that people were being added to the Powers support Facebook groups without their knowledge. One alumna posted in the group and said that being in the group compromised her objectivity as a political journalist after being added to the group without consent.

And The Times of Texas posted an article that said people were “spam-add[ing]” members to the group. The article from The Times of Texas included multiple screen shots that showed rows of people who were “added by” other members.

Rajagopalan said the statement “added by” means a Facebook user requested to join and someone approved their request.

“Anywhere where it says ‘added,’ those were people who requested to join and somebody clicked approve,” Rajagopalan said. “We also set up the group where anybody can approve anybody. So that’s why you see ‘added by’ and then lots of different names.”

Rajagopalan said there were people who he knows requested to join the group and their entry to the group said “added by Keshav Rajagopalan.” Rajagopalan said during the first few days following the Texas Monthly blog post, he would approve each member and he said he believes more people requested to join than were invited.

“The majority of people in the group now were people who requested to join,” Rajagopalan said.

While the Facebook group “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS” has inspired support for the President, it has also stirred up another group, said English senior James Lamey.

At 1:25 a.m. on May 10, the day following Burka’s post, Lamey created the Facebook group “Bill Powers Can Stand For Himself” that currently has about 800 members.

Lamey said the group neither supports or opposes the President but is in opposition to increasing tuition, large or small.

“I won’t believe it is worth [increasing tuition] until you can show me the class room where every student shows up on time, every student is prepared for the course material and every student stays awake for the entire class,” Lamey said. “Until I can see that, I won’t believe that it’s worth spending more money to throw more education at students who clearly aren’t receiving.”

Lamey said he did not feel that a Facebook group, like his or “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS” can accomplish anything. He said social media was a matter of spreading information rather than causing change.

“Frankly, a lot of this Facebook activism is pretty hollow — it’s just a lot of feel-good, self-gratifying and generally ineffectual activity,” Lamey said. “The role of the Internet is really to inform than actually do something.”

But Rajagopalan, who wrote his Plan II thesis on the role of social media and politics, said social media was a powerful medium.

“It plays a huge role in mobilizing and informing people, especially younger generations who have tuned into different social media outlets interactively,” Rajagopalan said. “It’s a powerful tool to inform and communicate with people and bring different issues and topics to light.”

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. 

A report released in the publication Texas Monthly claiming Powers' may be terminated sparked a social media response from the UT community Wednesday night. UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said in a statement he was never told to fire anyone.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

A blog post claiming the UT System Board of Regents may have plans to fire President William Powers Jr. on Wednesday night invoked a series of responses from the UT community, ranging from indignation to justification.

The report was published by Paul Burka, a senior executive editor of Texas Monthly, on his blog on the publication's website. In it, Burka cites an anonymous source with knowledge of the proceedings who said Powers is in hot water because of his "opposition to Governor [Rick] Perry’s insistence on a tuition freeze."

The report produced an overnight social media campaign to “#SaveBillPowers” on Twitter and Facebook and prompted meetings of student and faculty leaders on campus Thursday to address the issue. Powers released a statement Thursday expressing his love of UT and honor to serve as president, but did not address the reports of his possible termination. He said that at the moment, he is focused on the students graduating in the next few weeks.

“I am deeply grateful for the support of our students, faculty, staff and the thousands of members of the UT family," Powers said. "I will continue to work with the entire UT community to move the university forward."

In December, Powers decided to adopt recommendations crafted by the University's Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, which is made up of students, faculty and staff, and send that to the UT System.

Powers’ recommended a 2.6 percent increase on in-state undergraduates and a 3.6 percent increase on out-of-state students and graduate students over the next two years. The regents chose instead freeze tuition at its current level for undergraduate students and to increase tuition for out-of-state undergraduate students by 2.1 percent over the next two years and 3.6 percent for graduate students over the next year.

The board, which serves as the governing body of the UT System, is composed of nine voting regents and one nonvoting student regent. All of the current regents were appointed by Perry.

Michael Morton, president of the Senate of College Councils, said members from Student Government, Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly will be launching a postcard campaign this weekend where they will ask students to sign postcards supporting Powers to send to the UT System office.

“The general response is students have been outraged and shocked that the regents could possibly [fire Powers], and they’re angry because they realize President Powers does have the right vision for the university,” said Morton, who supported Powers’ proposal on tuition increases. “It’s a rumor and we need to treat it as such. We need to be prepared, and we are."

Morton also said they will be launching a website to collect signatures supporting Powers and that select students will be writing an op-ed on the issue next week. In addition, the UT Faculty Council will meet Monday to present a resolution stating a vote of confidence for Powers.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the Facebook group “I STAND WITH BILL POWERS” had approximately 9,868 members, the Twitter handle “@SaveBillPowers” had 268 followers and the Facebook group “I do NOT stand with Rick Perry” had 44 members. Meanwhile, a separate Facebook group, “Bill Powers Can Stand for Himself,” a group against the proposed tuition increases, stood at 57 members.

Members of the movement supporting Powers encouraged people to call the UT System office to express their support of the president’s his mission to promote excellence at UT.

In his blog, Burka said Board Chairman Gene Powell prompted UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to fire Powers, and Cigarroa refused to do so. Cigarroa released a statement Thursday denying the allegations.

“The Chairman of the Board of Regents has never directed me to fire anyone,” Cigarroa said in the statement.

Burka responded to Cigarroa’s statement Thursday and said his source was highly credible and continues to stand behind information the regents were planning to fire Powers. Burka said it is an open secret that some regents want to get rid of Powers.

“I have another highly placed source in the Texas higher ed community who emailed me last night about Powers’ potential firing, and the message read, 'It’s not a question of if, but when,’” Burka said. “This is a moving target, and I am trying to get the latest information.”

Burka said he had tried to get in contact with Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Representative Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who both sit on the state’s respective higher education committees. He said he has gotten no response yet.

Branch did not address Burka’s report directly but said he was quite impressed with Powers’ leadership skills.

“It is my view that President Powers is doing an outstanding job as President of the University of Texas at Austin,” Branch said.

John Davis Rutkauskas, the nonvoting student regent and a UT business honors and Plan II senior, said to direct all questions to the system’s director for public affairs. Rutkauskas, who has the same duties as all the other regents, said all he knew about was Cigarroa’s statement.

“You have access to all the information I do, and that’s all the comment I will give,” he said.

According to The Texas Tribune, Jeff Boyd, Perry’s chief of staff, sent an email to Cigarroa and Powell in March conveying the governor’s concern over any tuition increase. Boyd also said in the email that it is Perry's belief "that the university should be able to identify inefficiencies to fund whatever priorities any increase would be intended to support.”

Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for the Perry, said Thursday that Perry’s office did not know anything about plans to remove Powers beside what had been in the news.

“I can definitely say the governor has had no involvement in it,” Frazier said.

Alan Friedman, Faculty Council chairman, said many faculty members were appalled by the revelations of Burka’s report and concerned the regents were trying to stop the administration from doing its job.

Friedman said he was told by a different source that Cigarroa had asked Powers to withdraw the recommendation and Powers refused, and Friedman believes that may have caused the rift. Friedman said in contrast, he heard R. Bowen Loftin, president of Texas A&M University, did withdraw tuition recommendations when asked by respective authorities.

Loftin did not recommend a tuition increase at the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents meeting in April despite his statements A&M needs more revenue.

“[If Burka’s report is true] the decision harms UT as an institution and undermines the ability of the administration to function at its best by making them fearful that someone is always looking over their shoulder, monitoring what they do with reasons that may be political or personal,” Friedman said.

This is not the first time Powers’ position has come under fire. Rumors began circulating last May amid a higher education debate regarding the value of academic research at state institutions. At a hearing in October, Powell told Zaffirini that the rumors were unfounded and that both Powers' and Cigarroa's jobs were safe.

Talent is lacking in the Democratic Party, and it is up to the future generation to change it, a political writer told a group of about 50 students at a University Democrats meeting Wednesday. Paul Burka, senior executive editor of Texas Monthly, writes a political blog and has worked for the magazine since 1975. He also served as an attorney in the Texas Legislature for five years and holds a degree from UT’s School of Law. UDems President Billy Calve said Burka speaking to the organization is a great opportunity to get a different perspective on Texas politics. “Paul Burka is an institution in Texas politics,” Calve said. “We really hope our members will build on their understanding by hearing from him.” It’s over for Anglos, Burka said. He said the future of Texas is up to the Hispanic majority because there has not been a significant time when Hispanics have voted in large numbers. If all Texans voted, the state would prove to have a much stronger Democratic voice, he said. “If you plan to spend your life in Texas, you will live in a blue state,” Burka said. However, Burka that the increase in affluence in South Texas threatens Democrats because increased wealth, combined with a cultural sense of family values and patriotism, could lead more Hispanics living in the Valley to vote for Republicans. The Democratic Party hard said ly exists in Texas, he said. He said the party’s infrastructure is not strong because it has not been able to reach out to the Hispanic population. “The talent level you have to replace is not very high,” Burka said. Burka said Gov. Rick Perry is an unsympathetic politician who is not interested in the Legislature but is a political pro who knows what to do and always has a plan. “There’s nobody better at running a campaign and nobody worse at running the state,” Burka said. Burka said charisma is what makes a very strong candidate. He said the next generation of lawmakers need to be better at it. “The ball is there, and somebody has to go pick it up,” Burka said. Government sophomore Huey Fischer said he appreciated Burka’s insight on Texas politics because he came from a nonpartisan perspective. He said UDems members gained new insight into how to move forward for the 2012 elections. “We do need to start recruiting tougher candidates, better candidates, charismatic candidates,” Fischer said.

After gaining 22 seats in the Texas House of Representatives, Republicans could cut up to $25 million from state social services, a panel of political journalists agreed on Thursday.

Reporters and editors from The Dallas Morning News, Texas Monthly, Texas Tribune and Quorum Report discussed the significance of this year’s midterm election at the third annual fall forum at the Center for Politics and Governance.

Christy Hoppe, the Austin bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News, said Texas already has a “lean and mean” government. She said the cuts will affect services Texans deem essential such as after-school programs, nursing homes, parks and even financial aid for college students.

“Once they start hitting the middle class in particular — and it will — then you’ll hear some screaming,” Hoppe said.

Republicans now hold 99 seats in the House — the most since Reconstruction. Texas Tribune reporter Elise Hu said on election night there was a strong message that Texans wanted to continue to keep spending and taxes low compared to other states.

Texas Monthly executive editor Paul Burka said that Texas has always been a conservative state, whether Republicans or Democrats are in power.

“It’s just a great big conservative streak that goes back into the 19th century when there was not just a lot of sympathy for the underdog,” Burka said. “If you couldn’t make it out in the frontier, you were a liability to your neighbors. That conservative self-reliant streak is just inbred in a lot of Texans.”

The panel also discussed Gov. Rick Perry’s win and their predictions about whether he will run for president. Burka said there was no question he’s going to run for president because he is governor of the largest red state and he is popular in Texas.

Hoppe said she does not believe he will run but agreed he is a polarizing public figure like Sarah Palin.

“If she’s Barbie, he’s Ken,” Hoppe said.