Cigarroa: “Regents’ chairman has never directed me to fire anyone”

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This was the statement released by the chancellor’s office earlier today. Last night I reported that Dr. Cigarroa had been asked to fire Powers. Obviously there is a conflict here, but it is not surprising given the tension that exists between the board of regents and the office of the president and the delicate nature of this issue. That said, my source is highly credible and, subsequent to the chancellor’s statement, continued to stand behind the information. It is worth noting that the office of the president did not deny the report, but simply declined to comment on the matter. It is an open secret that some of the regents would like to get rid of Powers. I have another highly placed source in the Texas higher ed community who emailed me last night about Powers’ potential firing, and the message read, “It’s not a question of if, but when.” This is a moving target, and I am trying to get the latest information. I have placed calls to Representative Branch and Senator Zaffirini, the co-chairs of the oversight committee, but have not received a response from either. Regardless, events have been set in motion. The UT faculty council will meet on Monday to consider the ramifications of the tuition freeze and Powers’ future. The notice of the meeting read:

As you know, President Powers proposed a modest tuition increase for the next two years that fell within the guidelines that the Regents had established early on.  Yet he was pressured to withdraw the proposal, and when, unlike the President at Texas A&M, he refused because he thought it was crucial to the life of the institution to maintain educational quality to the extent he could, the proposal was nonetheless rejected.  Now rumors abound that his job is in jeopardy because he didn’t do as he was told. At its regular meeting this coming Monday at 2:15pm in Main 212, the Faculty Council will consider a resolution I have drafted in support of the President and his administrative team.  I think that a strong show of support from the campus community would be invaluable at this time, so I hope that every faculty member, student, and staff person who can make the meeting will be there.  Please come if you possibly can and urge your colleagues to do so as well. UT AUSTIN FACULTY COUNCIL RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF PRESIDENT BILL POWERS Recognizing the extraordinary efforts exerted by UT Austin President Bill Powers and his administrative team in support of the recent proposal for a modest, well-documented, and crucial tuition increase, the Faculty Council strongly commends them for seeking to protect and enhance the quality of our students’ education and the value of their degrees, as well as the research and public service achievements of the faculty.  The fact that the Regents ultimately rejected the proposal diminishes neither the campus’s need for such financial support nor the efforts made to attain it. Alan W. Friedman Chair, Faculty Council 2011-12

It is well known that a major source of friction between Powers and the regents is a report he wrote to the UT community on May 3. Writing under the title “Tower Talk,” Powers lamented certain actions of the regents, while praising others that paved the way for a new medical school associated with UT-Austin. The battle was over a proposed two-year tuition freeze at UT, supported by Governor Perry. Powers had sought a tuition increase. As was widely known, Governor Perry favored a two-year tuition freeze at UT, you may have now heard, today the UT Board of Regents took actions that will have profound effects on our university. The board did approve small increases for graduate and out of state students, but it did not approve the administration’s request for a general tuition increase. After acknowledging the small increases, Powers wrote, “Nevertheless, I’m disappointed to report that the Board declined to adopt our tuition recommendation. Instead it voted to freeze undergraduate tuition at its current level for Texas residents at UT Austin for the next two years….” This language, critical of the board, could  cause more friction with the regents. There is some speculation that it could be read as insubordination, thereby giving regents a justification for dismissing Powers, although Powers’ tone is hardly incindiary. Powers went on to write about the hardships that the tuition freeze would cause:

“Our university is supported financially by four pillars: state funding, tuition, research grants, and philanthropy. State support in constant dollars per UT student has fallen for more than a quarter century. With a multi-year tuition freeze, the second pillar of our funding structure effectively will be cut each year by the rate of inflation. While we appreciate [another small allocation approved by the regents], it will provide less than half of the increase we had planned for. Moreover, a one-time allocation, however much it might mitigate short-term problems, cannot substitute for stable, recurring, sustainable funding needed to support long-term efforts aimed at student success. “This action inevitably will affect our ability to teach our students and make new discoveries. Our tuition proposal, which was unanimously recommended by the students on UT’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, was dedicated to fund initiatives to enhance student success, improve four-year graduation rates, and increase scholarships. “As we prepare for next year’s budget, I will work with faculty, students, staff, and our administrative leadership to address how we use our resources to protect the quality of education here at UT. “The University of Texas has pursued excellence and has steadily grown stronger for 129 years. I am committed to protecting the quality of a UT education for Texans, for our children, and for our grandchildren.”

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