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Powers Will Give Up UT-Austin Presidency in June

Despite outgoing UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s demand that UT-Austin President Bill Powers agree to an October resignation or be fired this week, on Wednesday the two ended up settling on Powers’ own proposed exit date — one 11 months away.

University of Texas System Board of Regents, December 12th, 2013 meeting.

*Updated throughout. 

In the end, University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers got his wish.

Despite outgoing University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s demand last week that Powers agree to an October resignation or be fired this week, on Wednesday the two ended up settling on Powers’ own proposed exit date — one roughly 11 months away. 

Powers called that timeline more “graceful.”

"This is a plan for me that makes sense for me personally, makes sense for my wife, Kim, and I think makes sense for the university," Powers said. "We came to this decision because everyone involved has the highest love and admiration for this university.”

Cigarroa, meanwhile, said that while Powers was “an admired leader,” it was time for orderly change. “While ultimately productive,” Cigarroa said in his Wednesday statement, “the past years have not been without struggle and, at times, conflict and controversy.”

While Powers’ fate appears to be sealed, that of his most aggressive adversary — UT System Regent Wallace Hall — remains unknown. 

A legislative committee is in the latter stages of investigating the way in which Hall has personally investigated Powers’ administration. Its members are currently drafting articles of impeachment against the regent, which could be referred to the full House for consideration. 

Among the allegations Hall has leveled against UT-Austin administrators is that they allowed lawmakers to exert undue political influence on the university’s admissions process. Cigarroa recently announced a plan to launch a full external investigation of the matter — though, his statement on Wednesday made no mention of that issue. 

Cigarroa said his decision to ask for Powers’ resignation was not prompted by a single incident, but rather by “a long history of issues with communication, responsiveness and a willingness to collaborate.”

In his official resignation letter to the chancellor, Powers acknowledged the strain in their relationship. He pledged that in the time he has left, he will “work diligently to repair our relationship and to set a cooperative tone with you, the UT System and the board of regents.”

Shortly after Cigarroa publicly announced that he had accepted Powers’ resignation, the popular UT president held an impromptu press conference in a room that minutes before had been hosting a special faculty council meeting designed to rally support for him.

Powers also thanked Cigarroa and Paul Foster, the chairman of the UT System board, "for working very hard to get this worked out."

Powers said that in his remaining months at the university, he intends to work on initiatives to improve student success and lay a strong foundation for a new medical school. He said that he does not intend to leave the university. After resigning, he plans to take some time off, teach in the law school and write some books.

The board of regents still has a Thursday meeting, and the agenda still calls for discussion of Powers’ future employment — but after Wednesday’s developments, there is little mystery left.

Powers’ supporters had planned a major presence at the meeting, including a rally in downtown Austin preceding it. That rally was called off in light of news the president would stick around until next year. 

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the president of the Texas Exes, the university’s alumni organization, and the group’s chairman, Charles Matthews, issued a statement applauding Powers and Cigarroa, who is planning to step down as soon as a new chancellor is is named. 

“Over the last week, each leader has risen above personal differences to assure the interests of UT were the first consideration,” Hutchison and Matthews said. “Allowing President Powers to finish what he has started will ensure a successful year for UT and an orderly transition through the next legislative session. We now know the succession plan for both the chancellor and the president of UT-Austin, and we will work together for the transition to be smooth."

The back-and-forth of Powers' future has been a political football in recent years.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, waded into the issue on Wednesday, saying she was pleased by the developments. “The type of animosity we just experienced is a direct result of failed leadership in Austin that puts politics above the education of Texas' young people,” she said.   

Greg Abbott, the Republican gubernatorial candidate and current attorney general, did not comment on the issue. Though it has stalled, technically his office currently has a pending investigation into UT-Austin that was requested by the regents.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed Hall and the board’s other regents, called the agreement between Cigarroa and Powers “a matter for the chancellor and the board of regents.”

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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