Cigarroa: Political Upheaval Did Not Prompt Resignation

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa at a Board of Regents meeting in Austin.
University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa at a Board of Regents meeting in Austin.

Emphasizing that recent turmoil between the University of Texas System, the Legislature and the University of Texas at Austin did not affect his decision to step down, Francisco Cigarroa, the chancellor of the UT System, made his resignation official Monday. 

Cigarroa, a pediatric transplant surgeon who was first appointed chancellor in January 2009, said that he made the decision to return to surgery after realizing he had accomplished or made progress on major goals he initially set forth. Cigarroa is stepping down to become the head of the pediatric surgery unit at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he served as president for almost nine years before heading up the system, as was first reported late Sunday.

"I'm embarking upon a new and exciting adventure," Cigarroa said. "The timing made a lot of sense to me because I had time to reflect upon many of the successes we've had in the last five years."

Among those goals was positioning UT-Austin to become the "finest public university" in the nation, expanding the university's footprint in South Texas and improving the health of Texas.

As the system’s presiding officer, Cigarroa has also had to navigate continuing conflicts between system administrators and the University of Texas at Austin for the last three years.

In December, he recommended that embattled UT-Austin President Bill Powers continue in his position. But the recommendation was not entirely positive, and the chancellor said he had ongoing concerns because Powers' relationships with him, some board members and other system administrators had become "significantly strained."

Cigarroa has also testified before a legislative committee investigating UT System regent Wallace Hall of Dallas. Some lawmakers alleged that Hall has abused his authority to conduct personal investigations of UT-Austin administrators, particularly Powers, among other charges. Hall has said he was fulfilling his duties as a regent by looking into potential malfeasance and misconduct at the university.

A member of the committee investigating Hall, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Cigarroa's departure "raises more questions than answers." 

"I am concerned that without proper leadership and experienced staff there will be continued communication and administrative issues between the Board of Regents and the component institutions of the System," Martinez Fischer said in a statement.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said in a statement that she is concerned by Cigarroa's departure after he endured "unmitigated stress from the rogue regents who want UT President Bill Powers fired."

"Those who were unhappy with his recommendation to continue the heavily supported employment of President Powers reportedly turned their powerful weapons on him," Zaffirini said. "Although I am confident that he will deny any disharmony, I am equally confident that his decision was influenced by the continued negative circumstances at hand."

Cigarroa said that his decision was not affected by any political influence and that he had always planned to return to surgery.

"As it's related to President Powers, this decision is completely separate from that," Cigarroa said, adding that he supports Powers and will continue to evaluate all system presidents.

In a statement released after Cigarroa's announcement, Powers thanked him for his leadership and support for UT-Austin's new medical school and the creation of University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

"There could be no greater legacy for a man who has dedicated his life to the two noblest of all pursuits — saving lives and educating our citizens," Powers said.

Cigarroa was accompanied at Monday's news conference by Paul Foster, chairman of the system’s board of regents, who said that Cigarroa's leadership had guided the system through "uncertain times."

"Through uncertain times, Chancellor Cigarroa has led with dignity, integrity and honor," Foster said. "He found common ground where others couldn't. He constantly reminded all of us of our chief responsibility and motivation, and that is our students and our patients."

Foster said the board of regents hopes to have a successor in place in the next four to six months. While Gov. Rick Perry, who appoints the system's regents, will not have a direct role in the search for Cigarroa's successor, his input will be "sought and certainly considered," Foster said.

In his remarks, Cigarroa also thanked the Legislature and state leaders, including Perry, for their "steadfast support of higher education and health" in Texas.

His tenure while overseeing the 15-institution system was largely marked by his Framework for Advancing Excellence, a nine-pillar action plan outlining system priorities, including four-year graduation goals and online learning initiatives.

Among Cigarroa’s biggest accomplishments as chancellor was the creation of the system’s newest institution, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and setting the foundation for medical schools in South Texas and Austin.

Cigarroa will continue to serve as chancellor until his successor is found and will serve as a special adviser of continued development of UT-RGV and its medical school. 

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