Save Bill Powers: The Latest In The Efforts to Oust UT's President And How To Fight Back

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In case you missed what is already being dubbed “The July 4th Coup,” on Friday news outlets reported that the outgoing UT System Chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa, apparently gave UT President Bill Powers an ultimatum: quit your job by July 4, or be fired by the Regents this week.

The choice of date — our nation's birthday and the start of a three-day weekend and less than a week from the next UT Board of Regents meeting — seems specifically designed to deter UT faculty, students, and alumni from rushing to Powers' defense in time.

However, Longhorns and Powers-backers alike have enthusiastically and stridently come out in opposition to his firing or a sudden leadership change.

The UT Faculty Council signed a letter in support of Powers, and the Texas Exes sent an email signed by their new president, former US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, that threw some serious shade on Cigarroa's alleged process and the harm this turmoil could cause the University. Meanwhile, an online petition in support of Powers has garnered over 9,000 signatures in less than three days.

If you have not yet signed the petition in support of Powers, please do so now.

More on who has come to Powers' defense and why the timing of this matters so much below the jump.Why The Timing Matters

Cigarroa, center, sitting next to a man who earned a C in U.S. History, a D in Shakespeare, and a D in the principles of economics at Texas A&M.

Cigarroa is already on the way out — he resigned in February and will stay until his successor is appointed. Rick Perry's term ends in January (hallelujah) and the next Governor will be able to replace UT Regents as their terms expire. Meanwhile, Powers' term as Chairman of the American Association of Universities ends in October. It would reflect extra-extra-poorly on the UT Regents if they oust Powers during his term leading the flagship organization of research universities.

Cigarroa apparently told Powers he would be fired effective October 2014, which would give the University a very short timeline to replace him and leave certain critical projects — a $3 billion fundraising campaign, the new medical school — up in the air during a speedy transition.

A speedy transition before year-end gives Rick Perry say in who becomes the next UT President, which would arguably a final jewel in the Aggie grad's crowning achievement of eroding the quality of education and research at our state's flagship public university.

Who Else Is Defending Powers

Members of the Legislature are responding to the attempted coup by affirming support for Powers and reminding the Regents not to make any sudden actions. State Rep. Carol Alvarado, co-chair of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations — the entity that found UT Regent Wallace Hall deserving of impeachment for overstepping his bounds during his witch hunt against Powers — sent a statement reminding the UT Regents that the committee specifically urged them not to make personnel changes while the impeachment process continues. (Articles of impeachment are currently being drawn up against Hall; it seems likely he will be ousted.)

Today, Senator Rodney Ellis sent a letter to Chancellor Cigarroa that was also distributed to the media. It reads, in part,

Forcing President Powers out of office immediately prior to your departure does a disservice to both Bill's record in office and your legacy as Chancellor.  Further, the University itself deserves better than this.  I am concerned that a forced resignation will further inflame an already stressed relationship between legislators and the Board of Regents. This strain has tarnished the University enough; it shouldn't also end the career of a popular and successful public servant.

Some of the sharpest language defending Powers has come from Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities, who sent the following to The Chronicle of Higher Education, emphasis mine:

“I thought the State of Texas had in the past two years reached the outer limit of political intrusion into academic institutions, but apparently not. Now a board appointed by a lame-duck governor, and, astonishingly, a lame-duck chancellor, are threatening to oust a highly accomplished and popular president of Texas' flagship university, and a national leader in higher education. … Believe me, faculty members and researchers and graduate students across the country know what is transpiring in Texas: the complete politicization of higher education. This latest fiasco makes a bad situation much worse.”

It is, on the whole, a savage burn of Cigarroa's actions and the intent behind them.

What's Next?

The UT Regents are scheduled to meet this Thursday, July 10th, for their regular quarterly meeting. The agenda is posted here. Powers' job will be discussed during the 1:00 p.m. closed-door executive session, with the item set for the end of the closed-door session:

    c. U. T. Austin: Discussion and appropriate action related to recommendation by Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs concerning employment of William C. Powers, Jr., as President of The University of Texas at Austin.

At 3:00 p.m. the Regents will reconvene in open session and consider any action items.

Meanwhile, the UT Faculty Council has called an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the issue. Powers enjoys strong support from the faculty, who understandably are quite alarmed at the potential for a sudden change in leadership during what has been a critical and challenging time for UT, due largely to the strictures placed on Powers by the UT Regents and the insufficient funding provided by the Legislature.

As for Powers, the Texas Tribune is reporting that he is trying to push his resignation to June 2015, providing a longer transition time — and arguably, allowing the next Governor of Texas to choose his replacement and possibly replace a Regent or two. It's also likely that Wallace Hall will be ousted by then. The terms of Regents Eugene Powell, Steven Hicks, and Robert L. Stillwell will all expire on February 1, 2015. Hall's term expires in 2017, as does that of UT Regent Alex Cranberg, also widely considered to be one of the four anti-Powers Regents.

Regents must be confirmed by the State Senate, which could be an issue given the right-ward shift of the body expected after this November and the potential of Dan Patrick as Lieutenant Governor; however that's a topic for another post. Should Powers successfully push off his resignation until the end of this upcoming academic year, he will increase the odds that UT can find a worthy successor who can work with what is likely to be a less-hostile Board of Regents.

Still, the efforts of Cigarroa, and Perry by proxy of his Regents to oust this distinguished academician and public servant is a bad mark against the UT System, and will likely problematize any efforts to recruit a new president.

Who would want to come lead a public university in a state that fails to adequately fund the system, refuses the President's request to raise tuition, and launches politically motivated witch hunts that cost the university tremendous amounts of time and money?

*** If you have not yet, please take a moment to sign the petition in support of Bill Powers.***


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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