UT Regents Have Hurdles to Jump to Hire Hamilton

Two of the three candidates on the short list to be president of the University of Texas at Austin remain in the hunt, sources say. The front-runner comes with a very good pedigree — and a very large price tag.

UT System Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster during a meeting on Dec. 12, 2013.

Less than a week after the University of Texas System declined to name a finalist for the soon-to-be-vacant top job at the University of Texas at Austin, two of the three candidates on the short list remain in the hunt, multiple sources with knowledge of the search tell The Texas Tribune. And the one who has emerged as a front-runner reportedly requires a salary that would dwarf that of the current occupant of the job. 

Andrew Hamilton, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford in England, and UT-Austin Provost Gregory Fenves are the leading choices to replace outgoing president Bill Powers, say the sources, who declined to be identified because the hiring process is ongoing. While University of Texas at Dallas President David Daniel is officially still a candidate, he is no longer considered a contender for the position.

The Austin American-Statesman reported this weekend that Hamilton is the preferred choice of the regents. The Tribune's sources say that in order to hire him, the regents will have to scale several hurdles.

It would take a salary more than twice what Powers is paid to attract Hamilton, the sources say, putting him in the ranks of the highest-paid public university administrators in the country. Powers, who is stepping down at the beginning of June, made $731,638 in 2013, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education

And if selected, Hamilton would not be able to start the job until December or January, sources say. That means the UT regents would have to appoint an interim president in Powers' place until then.

Finally, Hamilton is also said to be a candidate for the presidency at private New York University, a search process that is not as far along as the one at UT. NYU's current president was making about $1.4 million a year in 2012, according to the Chronicle

Hamilton is the former provost of Yale University. He was previously a chemistry professor at Yale, and before that he was a faculty member at Princeton. While at Yale, he re-established the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science following a 40-year hiatus. Hamilton became the vice chancellor of the University of Oxford in 2009.

If the regents do not pick Hamilton, they are expected to offer the position to Fenves. UT System Chancellor William McRaven does not want to re-open the search, according to system officials, because he is happy with the two final choices. Several regents, unhappy with Powers, oppose Fenves because he has worked closely with the embattled president. A simple majority of the nine regents is required to hire a president.

Before becoming UT-Austin’s provost in 2013, Fenves spent five years as the dean of engineering, during which time he helped raise millions of dollars for the university. The ability to fundraise is often a key factor in university president searches. Previously, Fenves served as the chairman of the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

While the regents are expected to name a finalist sometime before the end of March, the exact timing could be important. Two regents, including Vice Chairman Gene Powell, will be replaced as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointees are confirmed by the Texas Senate. Whether the new appointees will be confirmed in time to help make the final decision is uncertain. A Senate committee recommended approval, but the full Senate might wait until after UT-Austin's president is chosen to replace the outgoing regents. 

The appointees — newcomers David Beck and Sara Martinez Tucker, and reappointed regent Steve Hicks — faced pointed questions when they appeared before the Senate Committee on Nominations in February. While the committee recommended the three to the full Senate for confirmation last week, the vote was not unanimous. Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, voted against Beck and Hicks.

Ross Ramsey contributed to this report. 

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at Dallas are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.