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Fenves Named Next President of UT-Austin

By an 8-0 vote, Gregory Fenves has been named the next UT-Austin president. He'll take over the job June 3.

University of Texas President Bill Powers speaks to Provost Gregory Fenves during a board of regents meeting on July 10, 2014.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

After more than three weeks as the sole finalist for the job, Gregory Fenves has been named the next president of the University of Texas at Austin. 

And this time, the current executive vice president and provost has been elevated without any dissent. The vote to hire him was 8-0 by the UT System Board of Regents. Regent Wallace Hall abstained from voting.

That means two regents, Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich, changed their minds from the 6-3 vote on March 26 that named Fenves sole finalist. Hall was also a “no” vote on that day.

Fenves said after Monday morning’s vote that he was “deeply honored” to receive the job.

“There are tremendous opportunities for our great university, and I will work hard every day to realize our state’s constitutional goal of a ‘university of first class,’” he said.

Fenves, 58, will take over on June 3 following the June 2 departure of current president Bill Powers. His pay has not been finalized, university officials said, but his base salary is expected to be $750,000, plus deferred compensation and benefits.

“This is a new chapter in UT Austin’s proud history and we are excited to have a scholar and leader of Dr. Fenves’ caliber who is primed and ready to lead the university’s quest to be the finest public research institution in the world,” said Paul Foster, chairman of the board. “We welcome him as our new president and look forward to accomplishing great things together.”

Fenves has been provost – essentially second-in-command to Powers – since 2013. Prior to that he was dean of engineering at the school for about five years. In that role, he recruited more than 50 faculty members and led a capital campaign that raised $356 million for the school. 

Prior to joining UT-Austin, he led the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. But he started his career in academia as an assistant professor at UT-Austin in 1984. He called it “humbling” and “exciting” to now be president, with his career essentially going full circle.

“When I returned to UT in 2008, I was stunned by the improvements at the university – the focus on teaching, the quality of the faculty, the vibrant research enterprise,” he said. “But there is much more potential.”

He said he hopes to improve the undergraduate education, linking it more to the research mission of the university. He looks forward to ushering in the first class of students at the Dell Medical School in 2016. And he wants to improve UT-Austin’s engagement with the state around it.

“We need to make sure that citizens of Texas all benefit from some aspect of the University of Texas,” he said.

Fenves will take the helm in Austin after years of turmoil at the UT System’s flagship campus. Powers has served for about nine years and has been popular among faculty and students in Austin. But he has clashed with certain members of the board of regents. He announced his resignation in July.

Fenves was one of several candidates being considered to replace Powers. Oxford Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton was once considered a front-runner, but he withdrew from the process after being named president of the New York University.

Fenves said on Monday that he hopes to “move forward in a positive way.”

“I think we need to agree on a common purpose and a vision for the university on what the goals are and how we are going to achieve those goals,” he said.

Most of Monday’s meeting took place in executive session, meaning the discussion was closed to the public. During the public portion, few of the regents spoke, aside from casting their votes.

But two of the three regents who voted against Fenves in March gave short statements. Cranberg said he voted against Fenves last month because he had concerns about whether Fenves wanted to grow undergraduate enrollment at UT-Austin, something Cranberg has supported. But Cranberg said he spoke with Fenves about the subject for several hours and now feels comfortable.

“I feel that if we choose to embrace enrollment growth, as we have successfully done with engineering and business, that Dr. Fenves will do a great job leading that,” Cranberg said.

Meanwhile, Hall said his abstention shouldn’t be viewed as a sign of disapproval of Fenves as a person or leader. Rather, Hall expressed a “strong and unambiguous desire” to hire a leader from outside the university. And he said he didn’t want to vote for Fenves due to lingering concerns about admissions at the university.

Hall was referring to concerns he has raised about some students receiving preferential treatment in admissions after lawmakers and other state leaders recommended them. An outside consultant found earlier this year that Powers overruled the UT-Austin admissions office in a small number of cases.

Fenves said he worked hard to speak with every member of the board, including those who voted against him.

“No matter how they feel about the vote, I am committed to working with all of them,” he said. 

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 Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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