At a meeting of the University of Texas System Board of Regents in Austin on Thursday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa delivered a highly anticipated address, laying out his “framework for advancing excellence throughout the university system.”
In a roll call vote, the board of regents, which has been the subject of speculation and suspicion in recent weeks from some members of the higher education community — particularly with regard to its support for academic research — unanimously supported Cigarroa’s vision.
Without directly mentioning them, a number of Cigarroa’s comments alluded to a controversial set of seven “breakthrough solutions” promoted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, and Gov. Rick Perry. The most hotly debated of the seven is a call to separate research and teaching budgets, which some critical students and alumni at the University of Texas at Austin have speculated is a divide-and-conquer approach.
In his remarks, Cigarroa said, “Teaching and scholarly research go hand in hand in a university of the first class." He pledged to protect that relationship. Additionally, he proposed a framework centered around the principles of opportunity, economic prosperity, quality of life and stewardship.
As part of that framework, he indicated that the system will make documents regarding its activities accessible to the public, easy to find and user-friendly. The system will also develop focused profiles of each university and establish a rigorous peer review process among institutions.
He spoke of measuring graduation success in a multifaceted manner and aiming to surpass national averages for four-year graduation rates. As for doctoral programs, he addressed the need to improve advising to boost seven-year graduation rates and help students understand their employment prospects.
With regard to tenure, Cigarroa said it must be granted based on the quality of teaching, scholarly advancements and service to the community. Teacher evaluations, he said, must be a combination of peer review and student evaluations. He also encouraged the continuation of the system’s current awards for outstanding teachers.
The system must continue to promote fiscal responsibility, Cigarroa said. Organizational structures must be examined, administrative costs reduced and inefficient programs eliminated, he said. He noted that blended and online learning programs will be a critical element of future success.
He also offered his “deepest and sincerest gratitude” to all 15 presidents of institutions throughout the system.
“As we work to maintain the trust of the people of Texas,” he said, “we must first trust each other.”
He told the regents, “Universities simply cannot be micromanaged. I trust my presidents and I will hold them, and I will hold myself accountable.”
Following his remarks, regents each individually expressed their approval.
“I have complete confidence in the chancellor,” said Regent Jim Dannenbaum. “I have complete confidence in all 15 of our presidents.”
Wallace Hall, one of the newest regents, said he thought Cigarroa’s comments were “fabulous.”
Alex Cranberg, another one of the more recent additions, offered his support but cautioned against confusing prestige with actual achievements in advancing knowledge and student outcomes.
After Regent Paul Foster moved to vote in support of the comments, Regent Steve Hicks offered an emotional, unscripted comment.
“Today, we have the opportunity to begin a path of healing and earn the trust of our constituents again,” he said, observing that the vote would be, in his estimation, the most important of his two-year experience on the board. “Now is the time to get fully behind the chancellor and not micromanage his affairs.”
He moved that it be a roll call vote. There were ayes all around, including from student regent Kyle Kalkwarf, who does not have an official vote, and chairman Gene Powell.