Lawmakers defend, praise William Powers Jr. in time of strain


At a time of strain between President William Powers Jr. and members of the UT System Board of Regents, Texas lawmakers defended Powers’ record and heaped praise upon him at a ceremony on the floor of the Texas Senate on Monday.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, filed a Senate resolution honoring Powers, joining two more resolutions filed in the House by state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. All three passed.

Eltife, a UT alumnus, said: “I see a man [in Powers] who shares the love for the University that so many of the current students and former students have for this great institution. I see a man who always puts the university first someone who stands up for what he believes even if it may not be politically popular.” 

The resolutions came after regents intensely questioned Powers during their Feb. 13 meeting. The majority of the questions came primarily from three regents: Alex Cranberg, Wallace Hall and Brenda Pejovich, each appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, which marked the beginning of a more public opposition to Powers by the regents.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he believed regents are undermining Power’s authority at the University.

“I believe in reform and I know Bill Powers believes in reform,” Dewhurst said. “That’s why I’m particularly troubled when I see UT regents go around this man. I see them trying to micromanage the system.”

The Feb. 13 meeting was not the first time Powers and the regents butted heads. Last year, the regents rejected Powers’ request for a 2.6 percent in-state undergraduate tuition increase and chose to freeze tuition. Afterward, Powers sent an email to faculty, staff and students expressing disappointment with the regents’ decision.

Shortly after, rumors originating from a blog post by Paul Burka, senior executive editor for Texas Monthly, stated that board chairman Gene Powell directed UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to fire Powers. Cigarroa denied the allegations.

In a joint statement Monday, Powell and Cigarroa said they were grateful to Texas legislators for recognizing Powers’ leadership at the University.

“We are glad to partner with President Powers in building and protecting a university of the first class for the state of Texas,” Powell and Cigarroa said in the joint statement.

On Monday, several senators gave testimony recognizing Powers’ leadership and achievements during his tenure.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a recent ranking naming UT the 25th greatest university in the world could be attributed to Powers’ administration.

“That is a direct result of leadership from Bill Powers,” Watson said.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said despite many senators’ reverential tone when making their remarks, the ceremony did not constitute a “eulogy.”

“We’re singing accolades to you today, but it’s only because we respect you, we love you, we want you to keep doing the great job you’re doing for my university, the University of Texas,” Ellis said.