Resign or be fired. That was the ultimatum University of Texas at Austin president William “Bill” Powers received last week from UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.
Powers, 68, president since 2006 of the flagship campus of one the nation’s largest schools, isn’t quite refusing to step down, this time amid an alleged admissions scandal. Rather, he’s “discussing a timetable for his exit,” according to the Dallas Morning News. He wants to nail down his retirement options and stave off his exit until next year, preferably on the heels of the next legislative session. If his wishes are met, he would remain president through May.
“Throughout my tenure, I have always striven to act in the best interests of the University,” Powers wrote in a letter to the chancellor published by the Texas Tribune. “I believe a graceful rather than abrupt departure after nine years in office is in keeping with that."
News leaked on the Fourth of July that two days earlier, on July 2, Cigarroa had asked Powers to announce his resignation at the end of August, with an official exit slated for the end of October. If the former dean of the university’s School of Law and current chair of the board of the Association of American Universities didn’t agree to the plan, he would reportedly be let go at this week’s July 10 meeting of the UT System Board of Regents.
We’ll have to wait and see what his fate will be come this Thursday. Whatever happens, his supporters won’t let him go down without a fight.
Several faculty members are demanding that Powers not be impeached, just as they did when he was nearly pushed out in 2012. Powers’ backers have also taken to Twitter to express their support, rallying behind the hashtag #savebillpowers. Texas Exes, an influential 100,000-member UT alumni association, launched a petition called “Save Bill Powers” that’s already garnered some 9,000 signatures and growing.
Last week’s quit-or-be-fired ultimatum marked the second time that Powers was asked to vacate his position. This time he was asked to resign amid allegations that academically unqualified students were being accepted to the university because of their political ties. The institution’s admissions director stepped down only days before a sweeping investigation into the scandal was announced.
Many in higher education claim that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who reportedly appointed all of the university’s current regents, is behind what Powers’ supporters are characterizing as another witch hunt to ouster him.
"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 Association of American Universities told Bloomberg, "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."
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