We are less than 24 hours away from the first-ever Texas Tribune Festival: two days of discussion and debate about public and higher ed, energy and the environment, health and human services, and race and immigration. It would be a wicked understatement to say we're excited. We're expecting more than 1,000 people to attend the various panels and programs — that many are already registered — we'll have more than 100 speakers from across the state and around the country (and a couple from another country).
These things are, of course, hard to pull together and tricky to pull off, but our extraordinary events director, Tanya Erlach, and the handful of people recruited to aid her in this effort, notably Shelley Lamon and Amanda Utter, have more than met the unreasonable goals we set for size, scope and execution. Throughout, they've remained remarkably calm. They tell me it's all going to be fine. Most of the time I believe them.
What I know for sure is that the Festival could not be more aligned with the mission of the Trib: to raise the level of public engagement in this state, to instigate the community conversation that needs to take place, to shine a bright line on issues that matter to every single one of us. There is still time to sign up and take part in what should be a truly amazing way to spend your weekend; click here for details.
A few words about the schedule, which has evolved (i.e., changed because people committed to take part and then bailed at the last minute) to much less of a degree than I would have predicted or than normally happens in cases like this one.
First, as you may have heard, Mexican President Felipe Calderón will *not* be speaking Saturday night. He confirmed early last week, and we announced it, and then within a few days had to unconfirm — the inherent complications of corralling a head-of-state was one of a handful of reasons. Instead, we're honored to have the esteemed U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, Thomas A. Shannon Jr., who formerly served, in the Bush years, as Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of Western Hemisphere Affairs; before that, he was U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States.
Second, Juárez Mayor Hector Murguía Lardizábal, who was to have participated in a conversation about violence in Mexico with Stratfor's Fred Burton and Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, had schedule issues arise and won't be with us. He'll be replaced on the program by El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, who knows as much about the perilous reality of life on the border as anyone these days.
Finally, although University of Texas System Regent Alex Cranberg agreed back in June to take part in a colloquy about higher education with University of Texas President Bill Powers, I was notified this week by the UT System that Regent Cranberg was no longer permitted to participate. The decision was made by Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell, who explains his reasoning in the statement below, which was emailed to me late this week.
I sincerely regret the short notice provided to Evan Smith on Tuesday, the 20th that U. T. System Regent Alex Cranberg will not participate in today's Colloquy session at The Texas Tribune Festival, and I apologize for the inconvenience this decision has caused Evan, the Texas Tribune, and guests attending the Festival.
Immediately upon being informed last week about the Colloquy by Regent Cranberg, I began discussions about my concerns with this appearance with Regent Cranberg and U.T. System officials. Ultimately, I made the decision that his participation would not be consistent with the Board of Regents' unanimous vote in August supporting a proposed framework for enhancing excellence in higher education and putting the authority for implementing the framework in the hands of our talented Chancellor, Dr. Francisco Cigarroa. On Tuesday, during my call to Mr. Smith to apologize, I also provided Mr. Smith the name of a very knowledgeable individual who volunteered to substitute for Regent Cranberg today. That individual holds an executive position in higher education in Texas and has a broad understanding of the challenges faced by higher education across America today.
Mr. Cranberg is a very committed and hard working member of the Board. He accepted the Festival's invitation in June in good faith and was eager to participate. However, the Board's August 25 unanimous vote designating Chancellor Cigarroa as the sole individual designated to handle the new initiatives must be respected by each and every Board Member. Regent Cranberg understands and accepts my decision. Once again, I apologize to Evan, the Tribune, and the audience, but I hope that everyone understands that I must honor and uphold the Board's August commitment to Chancellor Cigarroa and his implementation of his Excellence Framework.
In light of this change, President Powers and I are going to do a one-on-one on higher ed — same time, same place. Can't wait, and can't wait to see you all there...