University of Texas President Bill Powers Resigns Under Pressure

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers has announced he will leave office in June 2015, narrowly beating a deadline imposed on him by the school’s chancellor and board of regents.

In his resignation letter, Powers wrote to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa: “I understand that our relationship has been strained.” He pledged to “work diligently to repair our relationship.”

Powers, earning $624,350 a year, has held the position since 2006.

UT chancellor Francisco Cigarroa had asked Powers to resign by the next Board of Regents meeting on July 10, or he would be fired at it, in light of a “breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the university.”

Powers stated in a recent letter to Cigarroa that he would not agree to an “abrupt resignation” as doing so would “case the university and our state in a highly unfavorable light.”

According to Curry Shoff for website SBNation, if Powers retains his position for the 2014-2015 school year, it will allow him time to continue blueprints for a new medical school, as well as to complete a $3 billion “Campaign for Texas” project, and see out his term as chairman for the Association of American Universities, which includes such schools as Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Cal-Berkeley.

“I thought the State of Texas had in the past two years reached the outer limit of political intrusion into academic institutions,” Hunter Rawlings, president of the AAU, said, “but apparently not: now a board appointed by a lame duck Governor, and, astonishingly, a lame duck Chancellor, are threatening to oust a highly accomplished and popular president of Texas’ flagship university, and a national leader in higher education.”

The Board of Regents and Powers have not been in agreement over many issues over the years, including if the university is keeping costs low while also keeping tuition at a manageable level.

A similar incident occurred at the University of Virginia in 2012.  President Teresa Sullivan was ousted due to budget issues, but was later reinstated.

Other concerns include the outsourcing of key business functions at the university.

Powers has many supporters, including many alumni who claim he has stood up to pressure from Governor Rick Perry to turn the institution into a product that does not suit a “university of the first class”, writes Holly Hacker for The Dallas News. 

Former US Senator and newly appointed Texas Exes president (and UT alum) Kay Bailey Hutchinson said Powers  is “a great leader; he deserves better than this.”

Current students also stand in support of Powers, even starting an online petition to defend him.  Plans of a possible protest are also in the works.

“He has brought a lot of pride to the university and this would bring a lot of negative attention if he is forced to leave,” Geetika Jerath, UT senior, said.

With more than 51,000 students on campus during the 2013-2014 school year, UT is the sixth-largest university in the US, and the second-largest in Texas. The entire UT system, which includes several other in-state campuses, carries an annual endowment of $20.4 billion, third in the nation trailing only Harvard and Yale.