In the end, Bill Powers' resignation effective June 2, 2015 — submitted and accepted by lame-duck UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa in advance of today's meeting — was the least-bad option possible in the situation.
Powers will be here through the next Legislative session, and will end his term under a new governor, allowing someone other than Rick Perry to steer selection of his replacement.
On July 4, news broke that Cigarroa told Powers to either quit effective October 2014 or he would be fired at today's Regents meeting. After a tremendous outpouring of support for Powers from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and leaders from across the state, Powers was able to avoid being fired. He will resign at the end of the coming academic year, on a timeline that is much more on his terms than Perry's timeline.
A departure this year would have resulted in tremendous instability for UT and enabled Governor “Oops” to pick Powers' successor. Now, a slower timeline allows for a more deliberative search.
The move will do the least harm to UT's reputation, an institution that is increasingly becoming the national poster child for unwarranted, unwelcome intrusions in higher education from political players. But make no mistake: this entire struggle still hurts UT's reputation.
More below the jump.Once it was leaked that Cigarroa had called for Powers to resign, it was clear to UT watchers that the popular president's time on campus was short. Arguably Cigarroa would not have forced Powers' hand if he didn't have 5 votes on the 9-member Board of Regents to fire Powers.
The only question was how to avoid a shameful rapid ouster that would have harmed UT's reputation and made it difficult to appoint a worthy successor to the position.
As everyone from Kay Bailey Hutchison to Rodney Ellis to the American Association of Universities spoke out against the so-called “July 4th Coup,” it became more and more likely that a short-term firing could be avoided due to political pressure, but still it seemed unlikely that Powers would stay much longer.
The June 2015 departure gives Powers time to finish his $3 billion capital campaign, make further progress on the UT Medical School, and advocate for the campus in another legislative session.
It also means that UT won't be scrambling for a president who could step into the job in a few short months. Instead, a nationwide search will be conducted. This also means that by the time Powers departs, the Board of Regents may have up to 4 new members, as Wallace Hall is under threat of impeachment and three other Regents' terms expire February 1.
Furthermore, as Cigarroa announced his own resignation this past February and will only stay on until a successor is found, the entire UT System will have a new leader at the helm. And while this does present a unique opportunity for UT to remake its image and move beyond the fractious relationship that currently exists between the UT System and the UT Tower, I'm not sure that opportunity will be seized given the overall political climate in Texas.
Overall, the entire ordeal casts shame on the state of Texas, and hurts the reputation of the University of Texas.
Powers, the current chairman of the American Association of Universities, is a widely respected scholar and administrator. Despite his national reputation, a local faction of higher education “reformers” that seem to hate anything that promotes critical thinking or diversity in education were able to infiltrate the UT Board of Regents and force Power's ouster.
The only silver lining is that Rick Perry's cronies were unable to do this on Rick Perry's timeline. However, we must all keep our eyes on the University of Texas system as they approach this time of tremendous transition, and make sure the focus stays on providing a quality higher education, not on the further politicization of our public institutions.