Rick Perry is running out of time to drive off UT President Bill Powers.
With UT System Chairman Francisco Cigarroa leaving in a few months and Perry's reign ending in January, he has dwindling opportunities to get rid of Powers, a distinguished academic and university leader who enjoys broad and deep support from the students, faculty, alumni, and members of both parties in the Legislature.
On the Fourth of July, it was leaked that Chairman Cigarroa told Powers he had until the end of the day — the holiday celebrating our nation's birth — to resign, or he would be fired by the UT Regents this week.
Now, Powers' job is facing the greatest threat of the past two years, in which he has survived repeated witch-hunts and battles with UT Regent Wallace Hall, Perry's lapdog on the Board of Regents.
If we show strong support for keeping him, it will be more politically difficult for the 9-member Regents to vote him out.
Powers was most recently locked in a struggle with UT Regent Wallace Hall. Hall, in addition to funding specious higher-ed “reformers” and joining Perry's effort to make our flagship state university into a low-quality degree-granting trade school, launched an unprecedented open records request to try and “prove” wrongdoing by Powers.
UT Regent Wallace Hall, hopefully soon-to-be-impeached
He failed, and now the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has found grounds to impeach Wallace Hall. Hall had claimed back in 2013 that Powers “wouldn't be at UT” by the end of that year — bold claims from someone who likely won't be here by the end of this one.
Meanwhile, Powers has support from within the Forty Acres. The Faculty Council Executive Committee released a statement in support of Powers on Friday, and the Texas Exes are sounding the alarm. Former US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, herself a dedicated UT double-graduate, was appointed President of the Exes last week, so she faces the first big showdown of her time at the organization. I can imagine why she might want to get another crack at Perry.
While Powers has not been perfect — we strongly oppose the Shared Services plan he seems stuck implementing due to increasing lack of funds from the Legislature and the inability to raise tuition — he is committed to higher education and the role of academic research. As the current head of the American Association of University Presidents, he enjoys tremendous esteem of his peers. It would send a disastrous message and have a chilling effect on higher education in Texas if Perry were to finally succeed in ousting Powers.
Don't let Rick Perry's Regents mess with the University of Texas.
If Perry can use Cigarroa to force out Powers now, it will be a deep, hard blow to the quality of public higher education in Texas — and Perry will be able to play a key role in choosing his successor.
This is the biggest threat Powers has faced in his career, and for the good of the University and the state, it is critical that he prevail.
Update 1:57 p.m. An email to the Texas Exes alumni network has gone out from Hutchison opposing the firing and urging alumni to take action. Read it here.