UT System Leaders Look Back at a Long Year

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa (left), is congratulated by Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, after the regents gave Cigarroa a vote of confidence on May 12, 2011.
University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa (left), is congratulated by Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, after the regents gave Cigarroa a vote of confidence on May 12, 2011.

Like many at the end of this year, University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Gene Powell, the chairman of the board of regents, are in a reflective mood.

This week, they released a year in review — a list of 48 accomplishments from 2011, including the work of two task forces on productivity and online learning, the selection of Dr. Ronald DePinho as president of UT's MD Anderson Cancer Center and their participation in hearings held by the Legislature’s new joint oversight committee on higher education.

In an interview with the Tribune, both men said the item on the list that gave them the most pride was the drafting of the chancellor’s framework for the system’s future, which was unanimously approved by the board in August and was the impetus for Cigarroa being invited to the White House earlier this month.

Also this week, the system unveiled a key component of that framework: a public dashboard of key performance metrics, such as graduation rates and research expenditures, at their universities. In the release, they indicated that more information would be added to the dashboard in 2012.

Both system leaders said there were less tangible accomplishments that were not included in their review. For Powell, it was the hard work of his fellow regents. “The board has been extremely focused. They’ve been dedicated and hard-working. They are sincere people who I don’t think get enough credit,” he said.

Cigarroa said he was also proud of the “engagement from the students, whose voices were so important in many of these accomplishments.”

It has not been an easy year for the UT System, which found itself at the center of a heated debate about how to go about reforming higher education. Powell said that, despite the suspicion and speculation swarming around the board in 2011, the results — in particular, Cigarroa’s framework — made it worth it.

“I think that every regent would tell you that everything that occurred this year was well worth it to get this result,” he said, adding that the year-end report was not intended to “pat people on the back.”

Rather, he said, it's part of an effort to communicate better with those who care about the UT System — one thing he feels he’s been learning to do better over the course of the year. “All of these people are interested in what we’re doing,” he said. “We need to be accountable to them; we need to keep them in the loop in a better way.”

Heading into 2012, the biggest project, according the both the chancellor and the chairman, will be actually taking the chancellor’s framework from the page and implementing it in the real world.

“It’s a healthy process to reflect on the year in review,” Cigarroa said, "but it’s unhealthy if we say our work is done.”

Here's the report:

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