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Cigarroa: "Breakdown of Communication" Led to Powers Decision

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa on Monday attributed his recent request that UT-Austin President Bill Powers resign or be fired to "a breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together."

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announces plan to resign his post on Feb. 10, 2014.

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa on Monday attributed his recent request that University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers resign or be fired to "a breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the university."

In the statement released Monday night, Cigarroa acknowledged a longstanding tension between his office, Powers and the board of regents. But he did not provide specifics about the timing of his request, which came nearly seven months after he — at a board of regents meeting — publicly recommended that Powers remain employed.

Cigarroa did say he was hopeful that an agreement could be reached that would allow for Powers to make a graceful exit, adding that he is disappointed that has not been possible thus far.

Here is the full statement from Cigarroa, who is also on his way out, having announced in February a plan to step down as soon as a replacement is named.

The relationship between President Bill Powers, the Board of Regents and the Office of the Chancellor has been strained to the point of becoming fractured for several years. This was the case from my first day as chancellor and even preceded my arrival.

When I took office in 2009, I made it a priority to reach out to President Powers and to begin building a relationship based on cooperation and collaboration.  Unfortunately, the relationship has continued to be difficult throughout my tenure as chancellor, with significant additional breakdowns in communication and trust in recent months and since my comments at the December 2013 Board of Regents meeting.

In conversations last fall that led to my December comments, President Powers conveyed his desire to remain in office at least until the conclusion of his capital campaign and fulfillment of his term as chair of the Association of American Universities in October 2014. In my effort to accommodate his request, I recommended to President Powers last week a timeline for his departure that would allow him to achieve and celebrate those two important milestones.

I respect all the good things Bill Powers has done for The University of Texas at Austin and his years of public service, and I want to come to an agreement that will allow for a graceful transition and a positive starting point for new leadership at UT Austin. I tried very hard to reach that agreement and am disappointed it has not happened.

At this point, the next step is for me to have a conversation with the Board of Regents and for them to deliberate on how to move forward. This will take place at Thursday’s Board meeting.

Everything I do is in the best interest of The University of Texas. In recent days I have been accused of acting at the direction of the governor or some members of the Board of Regents in this decision and of taking steps that will ultimately damage UT Austin. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have supported Bill Powers consistently for the last five years, but this latest decision originates with the UT System’s Office of Academic Affairs and my office and is based on a breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the university.

The University of Texas is bigger than any one individual, whether it is a chancellor, president, regent, faculty member or anyone else.  Every decision I make as chancellor is based on what is best for the university as a whole and its students and supporters, not for one individual.  That will continue to be what guides me as I serve out my term.

Powers refused to agree to Cigarroa's plan to resign in October and countered with a proposal for developing a timeline that would allow him to leave his presidency in 2015 following the coming legislative session.

This idea has garnered support from some prominent state politicians, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

"After eight good years as president, I get it that some regents want change, but we all need to put UT-Austin and the state of Texas first, and do no harm," Dewhurst said on Monday. "What’s the difference between Oct. 30 and May 30?  Let Bill Powers leave when he wants to on May 30 with his head held high. He deserves it. And if the UT regents don’t permit him, they will make it near impossible to replace Powers with a world-class president."

Dewhurst also noted that Powers has been at odds with some members of the board of regents for years. "Several UT regents have been trying for years to oust UT-Austin President Bill Powers, and darn if I know why," he said. "After years of arguing and hundreds of thousands of requested documents, there is no smoking gun."

Cigarroa recently announced that he planned to commission a full external investigation of UT-Austin's admissions practices following allegations of undue political influence, but that investigation has not yet begun, and it is not clear if the current disagreement over Powers' future is related. Cigarroa made no mention of it in his statement.

Other politicians have also been critical of the recent developments at the system and the way they have been handled.

In a scathing letter sent to Paul Foster, the chairman of the UT System board, on Monday, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, described Cigarroa's ultimatum as "brutish" and the system's handling of the matter thus far as "unprofessional" and "amateurish." 

He said that if new leadership is required at UT-Austin, a "sensible" transition plan should have been put in place before news of Powers' ousting got out and tensions reached their current pitch.

"The way this situation has been handled reflects poorly on everyone involved," he said, "but the brunt of these errors will ultimately be borne by the people of Texas."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Paul Foster is a major donor to the Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.


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