University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers will keep his job for the foreseeable future, following a Thursday meeting of the University of Texas System Board of Regents at which there was a chance of his future being put to a vote.
The board's agenda called for regents to have a closed-door discussion followed by a vote on a "recommendation by Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Chancellor concerning employment of William C. Powers, Jr., as President of The University of Texas at Austin."
Given ongoing conflicts between UT-Austin and UT System administrators, exactly how that discussion would go — rumors ranged from a vote of confidence to an abrupt termination — was an open question heading into Thursday's meeting.
The board had a roughly 4 1/2-hour closed-door discussion, and, after they reconvened in open session, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa shared his recommendation — that Powers continue as president, a position in which he has served for nearly eight years. But the recommendation, which was blunt and not entirely positive, turned out to largely be an opportunity for an airing of grievances. The board never voted on the matter.
Cigarroa said that he has had ongoing concerns because Powers' relationship with himself, some board members and other system administrators had become "significantly strained."
"The main reason for the strain is that Bill and I would agree upon certain principles, and I would act on those principles, but then Bill Powers would often convey a message of misalignment, leading to conflict between UT System administration and the University of Texas at Austin," Cigarroa said.
However, Cigarroa said he had heard strong messages of support for Powers from faculty, students and alumni at UT-Austin. And though he said his relationship with Powers remained strained, Cigarroa indicated that their communication had been improving.
"In this context, understanding that I am hopeful that this strained relationship can be improved, it is my recommendation that Bill Powers should continue his appointment as president of the University of Texas at Austin," Cigarroa said. "I believe it is in the best interest of the university."
He also noted that Powers' continued appointment "would require good citizenship, respect for one another, a commitment to rebuilding trust among us, cooperation with the University of Texas System, as well as in systemwide initiatives and important inquiries, and the continued advancement of excellence."
Following Cigarroa's comments, which prompted a small smattering of applause from the public gathered in the boardroom, Paul Foster, the chairman of the board, indicated support for both Cigarroa and Powers. But he added that he also recognizes "the difficult relationship that exists" among the UT-Austin president, some board members and some system officials.
"I'm optimistic about the future of UT-Austin," Foster said, "and I’m confident that all this controversy will soon be a distant memory. I call on all constituents to be supportive and proactive."
Following the meeting, Powers said he was gratified" by the support from the chancellor and the board. "It is very positive to get this behind us and move forward in addressing these issues that face our campuses and face the system," he said.
Asked if he was disappointed that he did not receive a vote of confidence, Powers said he was not expecting one. He said he was looking forward to waking up on Friday morning and returning to work.
Leslie Cedar, the executive director of Texas Exes, the university's alumni association, which has been supportive of the president, said of the meeting's events: "We see it as a reason to be glad that the board recognizes what Bill brings to the table and recognizes the need for him to remain."
As for the comments about Powers' strained relationship with UT system officials, Cedar said, "Certainly any situation can be improved, and this one has room for improvement. It's a two-way street. We're on the road."
While many, including Regent Alex Cranberg, conveyed optimism about the future of system and its flagship university, the strain among them will be back in the spotlight next week. The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations is considering recommending articles of impeachment against Regent Wallace Hall on the grounds that he overstepped his authority in his dealings with the university.
Powers and Cigarroa are both expected to testify at the upcoming hearings, which may feature an appearance from Hall, though that remains unclear pending the committee's decision to issue him a subpoena.
Thursday's developments received praise from state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who said, "Today must mark the end of the needless distractions and ill-advised conflicts that have inflicted too much damage on the university and our state."