Bill Powers

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Bill Powers
BenjaminDower.jpg
University of Texas, Austin
President
In office
February 1, 2006-Present
PartyNonpartisan
PredecessorLarry Faulkner
Compensation
Base salary$613,612[1]
Education
Bachelor'sUniversity of California, Berkeley
J.D.Harvard Law School
Personal
BirthdayMay 30, 1946
Websites
Office website
Bill Powers is president of the University of Texas, Austin. Powers took office on February 1, 2006.[2] In October 2013, Powers was named chairman of the Association of American Universities, an organization comprised of the 62 top research institutions in the country.[3][4]

Announcement of resignation

In July 2014, University Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa asked Powers to resign or face termination at the July 10 University of Texas Board of Regents meeting. Cigarroa attributed the request to a "breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the university." Powers at first indicated he would not resign, saying it would "cast the university and our state in a highly unfavorable light."[5][6] However, on July 9, 2014, Cigarroa released a statement that Powers agreed to resign effective June 2015.[7] The Board meeting agenda indicates regents will discuss Powers in an executive session.[8][9] Some legislators on the transparency committee sent a letter requesting that the Board of Regents delay any personnel decisions regarding Powers or other witnesses from the impeachment hearings.[10] In a July 2014 op-ed, the Wall Street Journal commented that Powers' resignation would bring more attention and scrutiny to the political favoritism scandals at the University of Texas.[11]

University of Texas Presidency

According to his official biography, Powers presidency has focused on four specific areas.[2]

  • Building support for higher education throughout Texas
  • Elevating the university's academic standing to the best in the nation among public universities
  • Recruiting a diverse student body and faculty
  • Reforming the undergraduate core curriculum

Employment Status December 2013

A December 12, 2013 Regents Board meeting listed as an agenda item the "discussion and appropriate action related to recommendation by Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Chancellor concerning employment of Wililam C. Powers, Jr., as President of the University of Texas at Austin."[12] State legislators previously instructed the board not to make personnel decisions related to anyone currently involved in legislative investigations -- including Powers.[13] Speculation was that the future of Powers could impact whether Texas Longhorns football coach Mack Brown is retained.[14] The Board met for four hours in an executive session closed-door meeting.[15] Because of the posting of the agenda, regents could have taken action following the closed-door session. "I do not know if there was a specific purpose in mind for the agenda item. I’m sure it was discussed between the chancellor and the chairman," said Regent Alex Cranberg. State Senator Judith Zaffirini said she hoped the board would vote in favor of keeping Powers as University President.[16]

At the meeting, the board did not take any action on Powers employment. Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told the Board that Powers needs to improve trust, respect and communication in dealings with regents and system officials. "I am hopeful that the strained relationships can be improved. It is my recommendation as chancellor that Bill Powers should continue his appointment as president of the University of Texas at Austin," he said.[17][18] Cigarroa said that the relationship between himself and Powers had seen improvement.[19] Powers said: "There was a question about my employment, it got resolved positively. It is very positive to get this behind us and move forward in addressing these issues that face our campuses and face the system."[20]

Cigarroa detailed how in August 2013, he had explained to the Board of Regents the growing strain in his relationship with Powers.[21]

The main reason for the strain is that Bill and I would agree upon certain principles and then I would act on those principles, but then Bill Powers would often convey a message of misalignment, leading to conflict between U. T. System Administration and The University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, conversations with President Powers were frequently difficult, seeming like an ongoing negotiation," Cigarroa said.[21][22]

Tuition

In May 2012 the Board of Regents voted to freeze undergraduate tuition for the University of Texas, Austin. Powers supported a tuition increase and said he was disappointed the regents rejected his plan.[23][24]

Francisco Cigarroa resignation

On February 10, 2014, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced he would resign from his position as Chancellor. He said he felt he had accomplished the goals he set out to do five years earlier, and was prepared to return to medical practice full-time. "Education saves lives on many levels and I thought I could bring value to the UT system with that perspective in mind. Now it’s time to return to saving one life at a time," he said.[25] Cigarroa said his resignation had nothing to do with the turmoil and investigations within the University of Texas system. Cigarroa will continue to serve as chancellor until a replacement is found.[26][27] Cigarroa's new position will be as head of pediatric surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.[28]

Relationship between Cigarroa and Powers

The Dallas Morning News obtained an email in March 2013 related to Cigarroa's resignation. According to the newspaper, Wallace Hall sent a number of emails to Cigarroa in the weeks before his resignation. The email the newspaper obtained via open records request was sent from Regent chair Paul Foster to Cigarroa. In the email, Foster defended Cigarroa for his work while also praising Hall for his "tenacity as a regent and recommendations to better the university." Foster then implied that Hall had pressured Cigarroa to act, which Foster said he did not agree with.[29] State representative Lyle Larson (R) renewed his call for Hall to resign and Trey Martinez Fischer (D) requested that the committee re-open investigations. Committee co-chair Dan Flynn (R) said no further hearings were planned at the time.[30]

An April 22, 2014 article in the Austin American-Statesman detailed an email exchange between Hall and Foster, in which Hall alleged that University of Texas President Powers threatened Cigarroa prior to his resignation. The three-page email was written on March 19, 2014 as a response to the prior email that Foster sent.[31] In the email, Hall makes an array of accusations regarding the impeachment trial and events within the university system.[32]

  • Cigarroa first expressed concern to the Board of Regents about an "inability to work with President Powers" in 2010, which was one year prior to Hall's appointment.
  • According to Hall, Cigarroa asked President Powers to resign in Fall 2013. Powers then reportedly offered a range of requirements to retire, which Hall said were "understandably" refused by Chairman Foster.
  • Hall alleged that Powers "leveled a threat against the Chancellor," which compromised his ability to work. This threat was reportedly made in front of Pedro Reyes, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at The University of Texas System.
  • Regent Steven Hicks reportedly requested an "up or down vote" on Powers. Hall wrote that Foster has not allowed this vote to occur.

Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan pointed to the email as indication of a cover-up at the university, intended to deter an investigation into alleged clout scandals within the higher education system. Quinn Sullivan wrote: "it appears some legislators have been conspiring with UT Austin officials to get unqualified students admission to the state’s flagship university."[33] A spokesman for Powers did not comment on the email.

Release of email documents

Over 2,000 pages of email documents were released by the University of Texas to news outlets in late March 2014. Some of these documents detailed inquiries by Wallace Hall into Powers' travel practices. Some of Powers' travels were paid for in part or in full by donors. In January 2014, Hall challenged the "institutional purpose" of some of these travels in a message to Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes. A system spokesperson said that the travel in question had been reviewed and deemed appropriate.[34]

In addition, the released correspondence suggests dissatisfaction on the part of the Board of Regents with the administration's handling of the admissions favoritism investigation. Regents Hall and Gene Powell said they were skeptical that Powers would cooperate with the Board's inquiry into the matter. "I have no confidence that we will get full cooperation from Bill Powers now or in the future as his assurances are unsupported by the facts," Hall wrote in a message to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.[34]

University of Texas investigations

Forgivable loans investigation


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University of Texas Investigations

Background
Wallace Hall impeachment trialPolitical favoritism in admissions to the University of TexasForgivable loans program at the University of Texas Law School House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations (TSAO)Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Ed Governance, Excellence & Transparency

UT Regents
Wallace HallPaul FosterEugene PowellSteven HicksErnest AlisedaJeffery HildebrandBrenda PejovichAlex CranbergRobert Stillwell

Elected Officials
Rick PerryJoe StrausCharles PerryTrey FischerDan FlynnNaomi GonzalezEric JohnsonLyle LarsonCarol AlvaradoFour PriceJim PittsDan Branch

UT Individuals
Bill PowersLarry SagerBarry BurgdorfKevin HegartyFrancisco CigarroaCarol Longoria
See also: Forgivable loans program at the University of Texas Law School

On December 8, 2011, University of Texas, Austin Law School Dean Larry Sager resigned from his position. Powers demanded Sager's resignation regarding a forgivable loan scandal.[35] The primary issue was the law school's salary stipends and "forgivable loans" that were meant as incentives to recruit and keep faculty. "The fact of the matter is, and there's no two ways about this fact, that I resigned now because I was asked to by the president of the university," Sager said.[36]

A total of 22 professors, including Sager, received six-figure forgivable loans or other payments. At the time of Sager's resignation, 19 members of the law school faculty were paid more than $300,000 per year. From 2006-2011, the University of Texas Law School Foundation -- an entity that is legally separate from the law school -- gave out more than $4.6 million in forgivable loans. Sager himself received a $500,000 loan from the foundation.[37][38]

Former University of Texas General Counsel Barry Burgdorf issued a report in November 2012 after investigating the forgivable loans program. In that report,[39] University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall called the report "insufficient" and said that it did not provide the full story. In a July 2013 letter to State Representative Jim Pitts, University of Texas Regent Eugene Powell detailed a previously unrevealed letter regarding the forgivable loans program that was not included in Burgdorf's report. The letter, which was addressed to University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, was written by several female faculty members of the law school requesting an investigation into "two hidden salary systems that our dean has used during the last five years to hide salary raises and to discriminate against women and minorities in our institution." The letter was reportedly forwarded to Burgdorf.[40][41]

Wallace Hall impeachment

See also: Wallace Hall impeachment trial

After he was appointed in 2011, University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall began looking into what he believed to be clout scandals within the University of Texas system. Hall investigated the university's forgivable-loans program, admissions policies and preferential treatment to politically-connected individuals.[42] Hall, as an individual citizen, filed FOIA requests with the University system after his inquiries via his role as a Regent were rebuffed.[43] Hall filed requests of more than 800,000 pages, which some Texas administrators called an unnecessary burden. Some have called the investigation a "witch hunt" against Powers.[44][45]

An effort was begun in June 2013 to try and impeach Hall from his position as regent. Some legislators are justifying the impeachment on the grounds that Hall did not disclose several lawsuits that he was involved in when he originally completed his Regent background check. Hall updated Governor Rick Perry's office in April 2013 with the full list.[46][47] No unelected official in Texas has ever been successfully impeached or removed from office.[48] Governor of Texas Rick Perry's spokesperson said the investigations send a "chilling message" to gubernatorial appointees.[49] He added that the investigation was "extraordinary political theater."[50]

In July 2013, Cigarroa and Regent Eugene Powell responded to the ongoing investigation and negative remarks against Hall from some elected officials and University of Texas staff. Cigarroa said Hall was not allowed to access anything that was not reviewed by University lawyers to ensure they met federal privacy standards. In a July 15, 2013 letter to state representative Jim Pitts, Powell wrote: "Regent Hall's efforts extend to bringing the U.T. System into a competitive position nationally; especially related to offering blended and online learning opportunities to U.T. students. I would point out Regent Hall's excellent service to the Board in terms of time and energy. I appreciate his Board service and his dedication and hard work designed to fulfill his fiduciary obligations.[51][52]

Hall's lawyer Van Fleet alleged that there was evidence Pitts spoke with President Powers' executive assistant about ensuring an unnamed student who had previously been rejected from law school would receive an opportunity to re-apply and interview with the dean.[53]

At a November 12, 2013 meeting the committee issued subpoenas for Dan Sharphorn, University of Texas Vice Chancellor and General Counsel; Francie Frederick, General Counsel to the University of Texas System Board of Regents; Barbara Holthaus, System Senior Attorney; and Hall, who was expected to testify at the December 10, 2013 meeting.[54][55] However, only minutes after initially filing the subpoena for Hall, committee members suddenly recalled it. Carol Alvarado said the members acted too quickly without checking their schedule. The subpoena was issued for December 10, but no meeting was scheduled until December 18.[56]

During testimony, Frederick said Hall may have been in possession of protected student information. "We failed by allowing this to happen," she said. During the meeting, committee member Trey Fischer asked whether possession of the document was a criminal violation. Sharphorn also testified at the meeting. Legislators also voted to issue subpoenas to Francisco Cigarroa and Powers to appear at the December 18, 2013 meeting.[57][58][59]

Testimony

At the December 18, 2013 meeting, Powers appeared and testified via subpoena.

Additionally, Francisco Cigarroa and two former regents testified -- H. Scott Caven Jr. and John Barnhill. Cigarroa was questioned for more than 3 hours. Committee counsel Rusty Hardin discussed new evidence that had not previously been revealed. He said that earlier in the year, Hall had inquired about seizing some computers from the University of Texas Law School. Cigarroa confirmed the account, but said that the inquiry had not been executed.[60][61]

Despite not providing Hall with a subpoena, committee legislators called it a "slap in the face" that Hall did not testify. While nearly all individuals who testified were given an official subpoena, Hall himself was not granted one. In fact, it was more directly avoided by the committee, after it first sent him a subpoena only to withdraw it.[62][63] Committee co-chairs Carol Alvarado and Dan Flynn (R) released a joint statement: "Our invitation to Regent Hall still stands. We are eager to hear from him, and are prepared to accommodate his testimony."[64] Flynn said he hoped to wrap up the process by the end of the year and that the committee would move forward regardless of whether Hall testifies.[65][66]

Some of the commentary during testimony from the four witnesses:[67]

  • Powers: Said that the controversy surrounding his employment was a large distraction. He said it hurt the university's ability to recruit faculty and staff.[67] Powers added that the situation did "significant harm to our reputation in the academic world nationally and internationally."[68] Powers estimated that the records requests cost the university more than $1 million.[69]
  • Cigarroa: Said that there has been a bit of a distraction over the past year because of voluminous requests on one campus. He admitted that Hall had approached him about the controversy surrounding law professor salaries and admission policies.[67] He said that Hall had never approached him about firing Powers.[70] He added that Hall has the right to ask questions, with the University then responding as best it can.[71]
  • Caven: Said that it was inappropriate for an individual regent to act on his or her own accord without first sharing the mission of his actions to the rest of the board.[67]
  • Barnhill: Agreed with Caven and said regents should function as a board moving in a single direction.[67]

The committee canceled the December 19 meeting. The next item on the agenda will be a summary of options from counsel, Rusty Hardin, based on the information and testimony gathered. Hardin's report will be compiled over the next several weeks and then presented to the committee for review. The report could recommend impeachment, which would then require convening the full house.[72]

Personal

Powers is married to Kim Heilbrun. He has five children.[2]

See also

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References

  1. Texas Tribune, "Bill Powers Salary," accessed November 6, 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 University of Texas, "Bill Powers Biography," accessed November 6, 2013
  3. Dallas Morning News, "UT President Bill Powers, football coach Mack Brown staying mum on their futures," December 12, 2013
  4. Dallas Morning News, "UT regents signal their confidence in Bill Powers," December 12, 2013
  5. Wall Street Journal, " University of Texas Board Asks President to Resign," July 8, 2014
  6. Texas Tribune, "Cigarroa Tells Powers to Resign or Be Fired," July 4, 2014
  7. Watchdog, "UT President Bill Powers to resign -- in 2015," July 9, 2014
  8. University of Texas System, "Schedule of Events for Board of Regents' Meeting on July 10, 2014"
  9. Watchdog, "Board to decide UT president’s fate Thursday," July 7, 2014
  10. Texas Public Radio, "House Committee Wants UT Regents To Hold Off On Any Action Against Pres. Bill Powers," July 8, 2014
  11. Wall Street Journal, "Texas Admissions Brawl," July 9, 2014
  12. University of Texas System Board of Regents, "December 12, 2013 Meeting Agenda (dead link)
  13. Texas Tribune, "UT Regents to Discuss Employment of Bill Powers," December 9, 2013
  14. ESPN "Mack Brown's future in limbo," December 10, 2013
  15. Dallas Morning News, "Could Mack Brown lose an ally? Texas' Bill Powers to be reviewed by regents," December 9, 2013
  16. Austin American Statesman, "University of Texas regents to discuss Powers’ job status," December 9, 2013
  17. Austin American Statesman, "UT’s Powers gets a lecture but keeps his job," December 12, 2013
  18. Houston Chronicle, "UT President Powers ready to get back to work," December 12, 2013
  19. Daily Texan, "While board takes no action on President Powers, Chancellor Cigarroa issues strong warning," December 12, 2013
  20. ESPN "Chancellor: Powers should keep job," December 12, 2013
  21. 21.0 21.1 University of Texas System, "Board of Regents Meeting Minutes: December 12, 2013"
  22. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  23. Texas Tribune, "UT's Reform-Minded Chairman at Center of Controversy," May 18, 2012
  24. Texas Tribune, "UT Regents Back Some Tuition Hikes, New Med Schools," May 3, 2012
  25. KXAN, "UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa resigning," February 10, 2014
  26. Texas Tribune, "Cigarroa: Political Upheaval Did Not Prompt Resignation," February 10, 2014
  27. Idaho Statesman, "UT chancellor Cigarroa says he'll resign" February 10, 2014
  28. Dallas Morning News, "UT chancellor Cigarroa to resign, return to medical practice," February 10, 2014
  29. Dallas Morning News, "UT regent’s email hints chancellor was under attack before resignation," March 13, 2014
  30. Texas Tribune, "Two Lawmakers Renew Calls for Action Against Hall," March 14, 2014
  31. Austin American-Statesman, "UT regent’s email points to deepening rancor on board," April 22, 2014
  32. Empower Texans, "Email from Wallace Hall to Paul Foster," March 19, 2014
  33. Empower Texans, "UT Cover-Up?" April 23, 2014
  34. 34.0 34.1 The Texas Tribune, "As UT Inquiries Mount, So Have Frustrations," March 26, 2014
  35. New York Times, "University of Texas President Ends Tough Year With Yet Another Battle," December 15, 2011
  36. Texas Tribune, "UT President Asks Law School Dean to Resign Immediately," December 8, 2011
  37. National Jurist, "UTexas dean resignation raises questions about compensation practices," December 19, 2011
  38. Austin American Statesman, "UT law dean forced to step down," December 8, 2011
  39. Texas Tribune, "UT Law's Forgivable Loans to Faculty "Not Appropriate,"" November 13, 2012
  40. Texas Monthly, "Gene Powell’s Letter to Jim Pitts," July 16, 2013
  41. Texas Tribune, "Wallace Hall: The TT Interview," June 25, 2013
  42. American Spectator, "Transparency for Thee," October 25, 2013
  43. Daily Texas Online, "Facing impeachment, Regent Wallace Hall defends actions in debate with Sen. Kirk Watson," September 28, 2013
  44. Daily Texas Online, "Former UT System vice chancellor alleges Regent Wallace Hall’s ‘clear intent to get rid of Bill Powers’," October 24, 2013
  45. Dallas Morning News, "UT regent sought 800,000 documents, official says in impeachment hearing," October 22, 2013
  46. Texas Tribune, "UT Regent Wallace Hall Updates Lawsuit Disclosures," April 30, 2013
  47. Real Clear Policy, "The Campaign Against Wallace Hall," August 15, 2013
  48. News-Journal, "University of Texas regent not worried by impeachment inquiry," September 9, 2013
  49. Texas Tribune, "Transparency Committee to Mull Impeachment of UT Regent," June 25, 2013
  50. Texas Tribune, "Perry Blasts Impeachment Probe of Wallace Hall," October 30, 2013
  51. Texas Tribune, "UT System Pushes Back Against Criticism of Regent Hall," July 16, 2013
  52. University of Texas System, "Letter from Eugene Powell to Jim Pitts," July 15, 2013
  53. Dallas Morning News, "UT, Powers under fire, according to early testimony during regent investigation," October 22, 2013
  54. Texas Tribune, "UT Regent Hall Subpoenaed to Testify Before Committee," November 12, 2013
  55. Albany Times Union, "Texas House committee subpoenas Hall for Dec. 10," November 12, 2013
  56. Texas Tribune, "Committee Recalls Subpoena for UT Regent Hall," November 12, 2013
  57. San Francisco Chronicle, "Texas House subpoenas Hall, but then recalls it," November 12, 2013
  58. Texas Tribune, "UT System Lawyer: Hall May Have Shared Private Info," November 12, 2013
  59. Austin American Statesman, "UT Regent Wallace Hall might have broken privacy laws, panel members suggest," November 12, 2013
  60. Austin American Statesman, "Case against University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall Jr. takes shape," December 18, 2013
  61. The Republic, "House committee mulling impeachment of UT regent Hall scold his silence as hearings resume," December 18, 2013
  62. News Journal, "Lawmaker: Regent’s silence ’slap in face’" December 19, 2013
  63. Dallas Morning News, "Regent’s inquiry has damaged University of Texas, school president contends," December 18, 2013
  64. Lubbock Avalanche Journal, "UT Regent facing possible ouster won't testify," December 18, 2013
  65. My San Antonio, "Impeachment panel may move without UT regent's testimony," December 17, 2013
  66. Texas Tribune, "Committee nears conclusion of impeachment probe," December 18, 2013
  67. 67.0 67.1 67.2 67.3 67.4 The Horn, "Powers testifies before House transparency committee," December 18, 2013
  68. My San Antonio, "Powers says questions about regents support hurt UT Austin," December 18, 2013
  69. Daily Texan, "In testimony, President Powers estimates cost of Regent Hall's records exceed $1 million," December 18, 2013
  70. Fort Worth Business Press, "Lawmaker: UT regent's silence a 'slap in the face'," December 19, 2013
  71. Austin American Statesman, "University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall’s conduct called 'slap in the face' to House panel," December 18, 2013
  72. KXAN "Impeachment hearing canceled for Thursday" December 18, 2013