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Powers to keep job as president of University of Texas at Austin

No one sang “Kumbaya,” when it was all said and done, but The University of Texas at Austin’s President William Powers, Jr. will keep his job…for now…and if he chooses to stay.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents met Thursday in executive session to address the agenda item regarding the “employment of William C. Powers, Jr., as President of The University of Texas at Austin.” It’s been no love-fest between Powers and the regents in recent years. Some members of the regents have not been timid in their criticism of Powers, who was named the 28th president of the System’s flagship university in 2006. Others accused Powers’ detractors - particularly one member of the regents who is facing possible impeachment by a legislative committee for allegedly using his position to force Powers out - of a “witch hunt” to try to remove him from his post.

The controversy escalated to the point that some members of the Texas Senate, among them long-time UT backer Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who in the past chaired the Senate Committee on Higher Education and was vice chair of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, practically dared regents to fire Powers. And before three new or reappointed members of the Board of Regents were confirmed by the Senate, they all said under questioning by lawmakers that they would not fire Powers unless that action was recommended by the System’s chancellor.

Chancellor Franciso Cigarroa’s recommendation came Thursday following the closed-door meeting. He admitted that relations at times have been strained between UT and the UT System administration, but also said Powers continuing as president of UT was “in the best interest of the university.”

But, Cigarroa also said the university and administration must continue to work toward creating respect for each other and continue efforts to rebuild trust.

"There are problems,” said Cigarroa of the tension between Powers and the System administration. “I've addressed these problems. And, it is my full expectation that President Powers and I will work toward resolving them.”

"Although The University of Texas System Board of Regents took no formal action today regarding the employment of UT-Austin President Bill Powers, I am delighted that Chancellor Cigarroa and the Board pledged to work collaboratively with President Powers to continue to pursue excellence for the university,” said Zaffirini in a statement following the meeting. “An outstanding leader for higher education in our great state who is respected and admired nationally and internationally, President Powers continues to enhance the stature of UT-Austin and to benefit our state in countless ways.

"Known for his phenomenal support both for and from students, faculty, alumni and the community, President Powers has improved institutional productivity and efficiency, championed research, prioritized diversity, enhanced teaching and strengthened relationships with alumni and the business community."

State Sen. Kirk Watson has also been a staunch supporter of Powers and after the regents meeting today issued a statement saying, “Today must mark the end of the needless distractions and ill-advised conflicts that have inflicted too much damage on the university and our state.”

Watson called Powers an “asset” to both UT-Austin and the state. “His enormous value has long been apparent to alumni, faculty, legislators, Texans and academic leaders across the United States. I am pleased that Chancellor Cigarroa and (Regents) Chairman (Paul) Foster both recognized that value today in their statements of support.”

The Austin senator agreed with Cigarroa that the regents System need to focus their attention on the students, faculty and staff at UT-Austin. “I have confidence in President Powers and Chancellor Cigarroa to assure that their relationship is strengthened in order to achieve that goal,” he said.

After the meeting, Powers said he was “gratified by the support from the board and gratified by the support from the chancellor.” The UT president said it was “very positive to get this behind us,” noting that there had been “a lot of speculation both ways on this” and that he was eager to get back to work on behalf of the university.

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