A real win for UT
The University of Texas System Board of Regents made the right decision last week when it gathered behind closed doors to discuss whether to retain UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Although accounts of the meeting suggest the decision-making process was a bit rocky, Powers will stay on.
The nationally respected university administrator has been the target for months of several regents determined to get rid of him for not being sufficiently enthusiastic about reform recommendations touted by Gov. Rick Perry. For the past five years, the governor, in thrall to a major donor and former business professor named Jeff Sandefer, has pushed for UT-Austin and other state universities to adopt Sandefer's "breakthrough solutions." The so-called solutions included bonuses for teachers based solely on student evaluations, paying teachers for the number of students they teach and researchers for the number of dollars they attract, among other business-related recommendations.
Powers, it seems, wasn't sufficiently enthusiastic. He and his supporters among the UT faculty and alumni feared the recommendations would dilute the university's reputation as a major research institution and could impair the recruitment of top professors.
Powers' job seemed precarious until the university's powerful alumni and the Texas Legislature began to push back. Lawmakers have even launched an impeachment investigation against Perry's most enthusiastic spear-carrier, Wallace Hall Jr.
Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa conceded that relations have been rocky. "I am hopeful that this strained relationship can be improved," he said, calling Powers' continued service "in the best interest of the university." Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster said he hoped the controversy "will soon be a distant memory."
With Powers apparently safe in his Tower office, the academic spotlight shifted southeastward over the weekend, where two old Texas Aggie classmates - the governor and Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp - tangled over who should temporarily replace outgoing A&M President R. Bowen Loftin. Perry backed Guy Diedrich, a vice chancellor and old friend who worked as A&M's top lobbyist in Austin for three years. Sharp backed Mark Hussey, a campus dean and faculty favorite.
The academic tiffs cause us to wonder whether the governor was hoping that his new horn-rimmed glasses would make him look more professorial, if not presidential. Glasses or not, we hope he'll stick with his presidential plans, whatever they turn out to be, and not academia. Both his alma mater and UT-Austin are better off without the involvement of the self-described "little ol' animal science major from A&M."