Fenves to Be Next UT Austin President

Provost replaces Powers as regent wars still rage

Meet the new boss: UT Austin Provost Gregory Fenves now officially the next UT Austin President.
Meet the new boss: UT Austin Provost Gregory Fenves now officially the next UT Austin President.

It was unofficial last month, but now the final vote has been taken: UT-Austin Executive Vice President and Provost Gregory Fenves will become the institution's next president, replacing the retiring Bill Powers.

Fenves is the last man standing of a short list that originally included three other names: University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton, Ohio State University Provost Joe Steinmetz, and UT-Dallas President David Daniel. However, Steinmetz withdrew his name, Hamilton has already gone to NYU, and last month Fenves was announced by the UT System Board of Regents as the sole finalist.

Announcing this morning's vote, Board Chairman Paul Foster said the hiring was a "new chapter in UT Austin's broad history."

Fenves issued his own statement, saying that he was "deeply honored" to be selected. He continued, "There are tremendous opportunities for our great university, and I will work hard every day to realize our state’s constitutional goal of 'a university of the first class.'"

Formerly the dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, Fenves has a nearly unmatched reputation and track record as a fundraiser. He pulled in $300 million for UT's Campaign for Texas, and working as Powers' point man on the Dell Medical School project – the biggest single addition to UT's flagship campus in decades. He still has a month get all packed up and move offices, since Powers' last day is officially June 2.

Fenves assumed the no. 2 position at UT back in 2013. That's significant timing, because it was just before the roiling fight between the school and the UT Regents. More particularly, one regent: Wallace Hall, who has decided to use the school's administration as his own private chew toy (so much so that a grand jury ruled that, while he did not abuse his office to the level of criminality, he should definitely be fired). Last month, Hall was one of three regents to vote against Fenves as a sole finalist (the others being accountant Brenda Pejovich and oil man Alex Cranberg): this time around, all but Hall voted for Fenves, with the board dissident choosing simply to abstain.

It was Hall's constant and highly politicized attacks on Powers that forced Powers to resign, but not before UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa quit. Somehow, even after a damning grand jury report, and an official censuring from the Legislature, Hall is still there. Moreover Hall is continuing his witch hunt, successfully pushing that the Kroll Report into admissions policy be handed over to him in its entirety. That was over the concerns of both his fellow regents and of Cigarroa's successor, Admiral Bill McRaven, who has already said that, if such micromanagement continues, he may had to reconsider his position.

However, Fenves' appointment is significant, since he was a significant component of the Powers' administration. It's hard not to read his selection as a belated pat on the head from the majority of the board of regents to Powers, and a subtextual knock back to the Hall-inspired putsch.

(An important coda on Hall: His current fishing expedition is in looking for students admitted with less than 1100 on their SATs and a GPA of less than 2.9. This comes as the Legislature is trying to find ways to pull away from judging good students on solely their high-stakes test scores.)

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