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UT chancellor wisely backs off resign-or-be-fired demand

July 22, 2014 at 2:22 a.m.


Which is more challenging: performing a liver transplant on a small child or navigating the political rapids of public higher education during the reign of Gov. Rick Perry?

Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who will leave his job as chancellor of the University of Texas System when his successor is chosen, would probably say his current job is the toughest - which is why he's going back to doing transplants on little kids. At least it's easier to know when you succeed.

The strain of the UT job, which Cigarroa has held since 2009, showed up on the July 4 weekend, when he demanded that UT Austin President Bill Powers resign, effective October, or chance being fired at an upcoming meeting of UT's board of regents.

Powers refused Cigarroa's ultimatum and counter-offered to resign effective June 2, 2015. That, he said, would be less precipitous - allow him to be on the job through the upcoming regular session of the Texas Legislature during the first five months of next year and try to complete a fundraising goal of $3 billion.

Most of the university community sided with Powers, including students, faculty, alumni and just about everyone else.

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education is a high-powered bunch of UT alumni and donors that formed in 2011 in the wake of apparent efforts of Regent Walter Hall to get Powers fired. July 7, it pleaded for Cigarroa to accept Powers' offer to quit next year.

Calling itself "profoundly disturbed" by Cigarroa's "surprise ultimatum delivered by the chancellor then leaked to a political activist supportive of Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr. and Gov. Rick Perry, is deeply troubling and has no place in the governance of one of our state's most important institutions."

It praised Powers on several fronts, including achieving record-breaking philanthropic giving and recruitment of world-class faculty.

"As evidenced by his offer of a graceful departure at the end of the legislative session and academic year, Powers has consistently acted in the best interests of the university while others seem more interested in fostering dissent and destruction," the group's statement said."UT Austin is a Texas treasure invested in and owned by the people of Texas," the statement concluded. "It is our sincere hope that the chancellor will veer from this current course and work collaboratively with Powers on a productive timeline for departure that puts first the best interests of The University of Texas at Austin."

Fortunately for just about everyone, including Cigarroa, he wisely swallowed his pride and accepted the gradual phase-out Powers proposed. The power group praised the "Kumbaya" outcome.

"We are grateful that our leaders were able to come together and put the interests of our great university first by allowing a thoughtful, responsible and orderly transition of leadership."

Meanwhile, the investigation continues by a special House select committee on agency transparency, appointed by Speaker Joe Straus, to see whether regent Hall's demands for a huge number of UT email communications was a "get Powers" witch hunt that warranted his impeachment.

Hutchison revenge?

An interesting sidebar in the Cigarroa/Powers/Hall saga was that July 1, the new president of the Texas Exes began her one-year term: former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Hutchison, who was a cheerleader at UT and got her law degree there, had strongly backed Powers.

Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed regent Hall, defended and praised him after the House committee voted 7-1 to continue pursuing impeachment.

Hutchison had tried to wrest the Republican nomination for governor from Perry in 2010. but got just 30.3 percent to his 51.1 percent. (Tea Partier Debra Medina got 18.5 percent.)

In a July 9 joint statement with Texas Exes Chairman Charles Matthews, Hutchison also praised Cigarroa and Powers.

"Over the last week, each leader has risen above personal differences to assure the interests of UT were the first consideration," the statement said. "Allowing President Powers to finish what he has started will ensure a successful year for UT and an orderly transition through the next legislative session."

Give me your tired, your poor - not

Texas' freshman U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father, Rafael, fled Cuba for the United States in 1957 after being jailed and tortured by the Batista regime, wants to turn back children fleeing violence in Central America.

The children flocking through Mexico and across the Rio Grande to Texas should be sent back, says Cruz, who opposes any possibility of amnesty for 11 million people in the country illegally.

"The problem will not be solved until we make clear that those coming here illegally will not be granted amnesty," Cruz said July 17.

Dave McNeely retired from the Austin American-Statesman at the end of 2004 but still writes a weekly column. Email him at dmcneely@austin.rr.com.

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