Admiral McRaven to Become UT Chancellor

Man who masterminded Bin Laden death to take over UT

Admiral William McRaven, tapped to become the next UT System Chancellor
Admiral William McRaven, tapped to become the next UT System Chancellor

The leadership of the UT System could be set for a real change in management style, as the board of regents yesterday announced that Admiral William McRaven is the sole finalist to become the next system chancellor.

McRaven is the sole finalist to replace outgoing Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. The current UT boss actually announced his resignation in February, but after the argument over UT President Bill Powers, and the ongoing witch hunt by some UT regents to remove him, the search to find a new chancellor heated up. Coincidentally, in June, McRaven's request to retire after a 37-year military career was approved.

In a statement, Regents Chairman Paul Foster called him "a nationally and internationally respected leader and a true American hero. His decades-long experience in proven strategic leadership, teamwork, vision, decision making, discipline, and working directly with national and world leaders make him an excellent choice – among a pool of extraordinarily distinguished candidates – to guide the UT System into its next chapter of greatness."

The plaudits came in thick and fast. The Texas Coalition for Higher Education wrote that "McRaven is a proven leader with a strong backbone and the courage of his convictions and we believe he will stand up for what is right and in the best interests of higher education."

Meanwhile, Speaker Joe Straus called McRaven "a distinguished, inspiring leader whose arrival will mark a new chapter with new opportunities for the UT System." Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said, "As chair of the Texas Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations, I know well the qualities that military veterans can bring to civilian leadership positions."

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was more laconic. "Because he is an accomplished strategist and no stranger to rough waters, he is expected to help navigate the UT System past recent controversy and focus on excellence."

McRaven beat out two other putative contenders for the post: Richard Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, who seemed to be the favorite of the business lobby that wants to turn public universities into degree mills; and former state senator turned state state Health and Human Services Commission head Kyle Janek, who has Gov. Rick Perry in his corner, but no one else.

A UT journalism major (class of '77), McRaven's military career has been built around US special operations. A former Navy SEAL, he has been both a practitioner and theorist of special operations warfare (the use of small, highly trained units, rather than larger forces), including heading up the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM.)

But there are a couple of quite substantial elephants in the room. Starting with, exactly why does McRaven - who has previously been talked about as a future Secretary of the Navy - want to step out of the military and into an academic administrative (and highly political) post?

And why did he suddenly leapfrog to the front of the line to head up the state's preeminent university system?

Well, one, he's the guy who headed up Operation Neptune's Spear, the strike that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011. That makes it very hard for anyone to nay say his selection.

However, the biggest issue will probably be that he has no real academic experience, and there's a big difference between being a CEO and CO. He did help establish the special operations/low intensity conflict curriculum at the Naval Postgraduate School, but that's a long way from dealing with the increasingly complicated and underfunded operations of nine universities.

The big argument will probably be that he is used to running a large administrative system as, since 2011, he has headed up SOCOM. However, there will be automatic questions about whether that transfers across to wrangling the bag of cats that is the UT System Board of Regents. Unlike the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there is no definition of insubordination in Robert's Rules. Moreover, the increasing dependence of the U.S. on special ops as a tool of foreign policy has meant that McRaven has been allowed to write his own checks: During his tenure, the Joint Special Operations Command basically doubled in size. No one seems to be lining up to to increase UT's budget.

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University of Texas, UT System, Francisco Cigarroa, William McRaven

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