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UT Chancellor Cigarroa Quits

After surprise exit, will head pediatric tranplants in San Antonio

By Richard Whittaker, 12:44PM, Mon. Feb. 10

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa makes the surprise decision to quit to run pediatric transplant group at UT San Antonio
UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa makes the surprise decision to quit to run pediatric transplant group at UT San Antonio

A major shakeup at the University of Texas: In a surprise announcement,

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa will be stepping down after five years leading the state's top university body.

Cigarroa, a practicing surgeon, become chancellor in 2009, but in a press conference this morning he confirmed, "I am embarking on a new and exciting adventure." He will become head of pediatric transplant surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. He was offered the position in December, and he briefed the board that he was considering accepting the offer on January 15. He will stay on in his position until regents have selected his appointment.

Explaining his departure, Cigarroa said, "In large part, I have completed all the goals that I set out in 2009." That includes getting voter approval for the Dell School of Medicine, and the new building at the Cockrell School of Engineering "have set a pathway for UT Austin to become America's finest university." There's also the progress of the EL Paso, San Antonio, Dallas and Arlinton research universities towards Tier One status, and the merger of UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American to form UT Rio Grande Valley. Cigarroa said, "I'm so proud that, for the very first time in the history of South Texas, that this region is eligible for Permanent University Funds."

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education immediately called Cigarroa’s resignation "a serious loss to the University of Texas System and higher education across Texas. Under Chancellor Cigarroa’s visionary leadership, the UT System has realized many important achievements in its academic and health institutions, and he is to be applauded and thanked for his service, particularly under increasingly challenging and divisive circumstances."

Calling Cigarroa "a true renaissance man," Texas Association of Business CEO Bill Hammond wrote, "He has overseen tremendous growth and positive change at all of the campuses of the U.T. system."

However, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, wasn't so eager to ignore the gorilla in the room: Why exactly Cigarroa had so abruptly quit. She wrote this morning. "Although I share his joy in his returning to his first professional joy and San Antonio family, I am distressed that he is leaving higher education at a time when his leadership is needed. Given the circumstances, no one can blame him, and everyone can understand his decision and support it—myself included.

The specifics of those circumstances are clear: The ongoing push by some members of the UT Board of Regents to push out UT Austin President Bill Powers. Zaffirini continued, "Those who were unhappy with (Cigarroa's) recommendation to continue the heavily supported employment of President Powers reportedly turned their powerful weapons on him."

None of this is likely to sit well with the House Select Committee on Trans­parency in State Agency Operations, which is considering articles of impeachment against UT Regent Wallace Hall, who is accused of abusing his office, most particularly open records requests, is a thinly veiled campaign of harassment against Powers.

So now the regents start on the process of selecting Cigarroa's successor, and therefore Powers' boss. Sitting with the chancellor this morning, UT Board of Regents chairman Paul Foster said the regents will likely hire a search firm to help them, and while they will seek and consider the opinion of Gov. Rick Perry (who is no fan of Powers), the finalist will be the regents' decision. That way, he said, "We'll wind up with the second best chancellor in the history of UT."

However, that process will be under extreme public scrutiny. The higher education coalition wrote that its members "look forward to a search process devoid of political interference and focused on academic excellence. … The next chancellor of the UT System must have an appreciation for thorough input from all stakeholders in decision-making and a vision for the future of higher education in the evolving academic environment with the primary goal of enhanced excellence."

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who working with Cigarroa on the UT Austin medical school, sent a similarly clear message via Facebook this morning. He wrote, "I hope the Board of Regents will embrace this opportunity to find a successor who will live up to Dr. Cigarroa’s standard. This critical moment requires an open process that puts the students and faculty of UT System institutions – and the people of Texas – first."

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