The Austin Chronicle

UT Chancellor to President: Resign, Or I'll Fire You

By Richard Whittaker, July 8, 2014, 11:37am, Newsdesk

The war over Bill Powers' tenure as president of the University of Texas at Austin may be reaching a new level of brutality as UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa will reportedly seek Powers' termination at this week's regents meeting.

Cigarroa, who is scheduled to quit UT to head up pediatric transplant surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, has previously stayed quiet publicly on the tension between Powers and other members of the board of regents. However, he is now reported to have demanded that Powers resign immediately. The issue at hand seems to be whether Powers abused the admissions process to get friends and families of lawmakers into the UT Law School. Powers reportedly declined Cigarroa's demands, saying he will step down in a year, after the next legislative session, but the outgoing chancellor has seemingly stepped up his threat, and will demand his ouster at the regents' meeting on Thursday.

The battle by the right to get rid of Powers has seemingly gone on for years, and it remains a minor mystery why some political figures connected with Gov. Rick Perry, including some regents, take such affront at his presence. Even more intriguing has been the fixation of well-funded right-wing dirt diggers, which has taken a mysteriously deep interest in this matter. Now national right wing smear machine Breitbart, through its Texas tentacle, has joined the fight, making claims of whistleblowers. Although, that said, the author of that piece is scarcely a journalist by any conventional metric: It's Michael Quinn Sullivan, head of fringe conservative pressure group Empower Texans, who is currently facing a Texas Ethics Commission allegation that he is an unregistered lobbyist (and seems very much to be on the losing end.)

Not that this will sit too well with lawmakers. On May 12, the House Select Committee in Transparency in State Agency Operations agreed to draft articles of impeachment against Wallace Hall, the regent who has worked hardest to undermine Powers with a series of allegations.

On the other side of the dome, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, sent a sternly worded letter to Cigarroa, suggesting that he back down. Noting that a "forced resignation will further inflame an already stressed relationship between legislators and the Board of Regents," Ellis told him, "Forcing President Powers out of office immediately prior to your departure does a disservice to both Bill's record in office and your legacy as Chancellor."

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education applauded Powers tenure and his offer to gracefully retire in a year, but had harsh words for Cigarroa. "A surprise ultimatum delivered by the Chancellor then leaked to a political activist supportive of (Hall) and (Perry), is deeply troubling and has no place in the governance of one of our state's most important institutions."

Moreover, Powers also has the support of UT staff and alumni. A petition demanding that Cigarroa back down has gathered over 11,000 signatures since the Fourth of July weekend. Even the normally placid Texas Exes have been raised from their slumber. Former US Senator now Board President Kay Bailey Hutchison and Board Chairman Charles Matthews sent members a letter, slamming Cigarroa's actions as deleterious to the whole system, and stating that "a forced resignation or firing would be a travesty for UT."

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