The Gene Powell Interview: Part Two

The University of Texas Board of Regents chairman on the fog of war, the battles over higher education, and the future of learning.
Fri May 17, 2013 9:00 am

This is part two of a two-part interview. Part one was published on yesterday. A condensed version of the entire interview will be published in the June issue of Texas Monthly. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

JAKE SILVERSTEIN: So let’s talk about the Framework [for Advancing Excellence]. It’s a document, written by the chancellor, that outlines a series of specific goals, from increasing the number of degrees conferred to lowering financial impact, and even touches on some smaller things like space utilization and computational power. But what are the larger goals of the project? What is the framework trying to do for the system?

GENE POWELL: There are problems in higher education across America: cost, accessibility, tuition, fees, teaching loads, utilization of space. So I appointed two task forces the first day I became chairman, one on online learning, chaired by Regent Hall, and one on excellence and productivity, chaired by Regent Pejovich. Now, these two task forces had presidents, regents, other people in the system on them, and the chancellor was on them too. Over the spring of 2011, they talked about everything in the world, and they brought in all kinds of experts. They had about twenty meetings, and they put in about two thousand man-hours. In late May the chancellor came to me and he said, “Chairman, I have had an epiphany. I think I can see an action plan, and I think I can use almost everything that the two task forces have generated. Your plan was for each task force to write a report to the board and the board would hand it to me and I would go work on it. I don’t think we can wait for that. I now know enough that I can go right to writing the action plan.” So we gave him permission, and he gathered together his staff, they went on a retreat, and they wrote the first draft of the framework. They then brought it to me, and he and I spent a day going over it. He then took it to the regents. They reviewed it, gave him input, he then took it to the presidents, they all reviewed it, gave their input, and all signed off on it. Then he presented it on August 25, 2011. The room was packed, with both supporters

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