After a legislative session that started rough but ended to his liking and amid questions from his board about the expenses and ambitions of University of Texas System offices, UT Chancellor Bill McRaven was noncommittal Thursday about whether he wants to remain in his job after his contract expires at the end of the year.

“I have got to find out if the board wants me to stay,” he said, in an on-stage interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith.

McRaven said he’ll have a discussion with UT System regents in the coming months “to determine whether this grand experiment is working.” The experiment he was referring to was the decision to put a nontraditional chancellor at the top of one of the nation’s largest university systems.

McRaven, a retired Navy admiral, has been in office for about 2 ½ years. When it comes time to decide whether to extend his three-year contract, the decision will have to be made whether McRaven adds value to the vision that the board has for the system’s future, he said.

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“I want to see the direction the board is going,” he said.

McRaven has faced criticism from lawmakers and some regents in recent months for his relationship with elected officials in the state. His move to purchase about 300 acres in Houston for a research and collaboration campus enraged some state legislators in the area. And some regents have questioned whether system administrative expenses have grown too high in recent years.

In an hour-long interview, the chancellor defended his actions, although he admitted that he made mistakes in the Houston move. He pointed out that higher education ended up faring relatively well in the legislative session — there was no tuition freeze, and universities didn’t face the draconian cuts that they feared. That is evidence that his relationship with lawmakers is better than some people think, he said.

And worries about growth in expenses at system offices are at least partially based on unfamiliarity with what has happened at the system level in recent years, he said. Total expenses have gone up, he acknowledged, but that’s in large part because costs have been shifted to the system level to save money for the universities and medical schools that he oversees.

The UT System board is expected to have a series of discussions in the coming months about the role of the system. Some regents have questioned whether the system offices are taking on too much — and whether the system should instead reposition itself as a mere holding company for its universities and medical schools.

McRaven noted that the system has cut staff in recent years in an effort to reduce costs. But the system still needs to be ambitious, he said.

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“If you want to be a great system, then you have to do great things,” he said. 

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Disclosure: The University of Texas System has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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