Yesterday, University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers announced that at the end of the next academic year he will officially step down from his post and resume his role as a professor in the School of Law.
Many UT-Austin students, faculty, and staff are celebrating Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s decision to allow Powers to remain on as president for the next academic year as a win for the university community. Some seem to think the announcement marks the end of the tumultuous relationship between President Powers and the University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Unfortunately, this may be too optimistic. The long-term implications of Powers’ resignation are much more uncertain and potentially troubling.
Cigarroa said in his statement on Powers’ resignation that an advisory search committee will be formed to begin looking for UT-Austin’s next president. Ultimate hiring power, however, rests with the next governor of Texas, with advice from the Board of Regents.
But Texans will not elect a new governor until November, and with the well-documented ideological differences between the board and Powers, a real possibility exists that the new president will be more philosophically aligned with the board than the university community.
During his tenure, Powers has consistently represented the interests of students, faculty, and staff. Even in the face of opposition from the board, Powers never backed down. Should a new president be hired whose higher education ideology mimics that of the board, the UT-Austin community will be losing a forceful voice for its interests.
At a time when the Texas Legislature continues to slash funding for the university, forcing difficult budgetary decisions to be made, UT-Austin needs an independent and courageous thinker who will represent the university’s best interests with integrity.
The board would do well to ensure a transparent hiring process and solicit feedback from students, faculty, and staff along the way. Whatever does come next, though, the Board of Regents should know that the eyes of Texas will always be upon them.
Photo credit: Jonathan Garza