William H. McRaven

UT President William Powers Jr. at the Dell Medical School groundbreaking Monday.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

The search for the next president of the University was jump-started last week as a finalist for the position of UT System chancellor was named. Assuming no truly frightful skeletons emerge from Admiral William H. McRaven’s closet in the three-week waiting period mandated by state law, his ascension to the post is all but certain.

But why does that matter at the University level?

Early last month, news leaked that Francisco Cigarroa, the current chancellor of the 15-campus university system, had given UT President William Powers Jr. an ultimatum: step down or risk being fired. Ultimately, Powers was “spared” in the sense that Cigarroa agreed to let him resign next June. Tensions between Powers; Cigarroa; the regents, who choose the chancellor and president, approve University investments, set tuition rates and oversee contract negations; and Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed the current crop of regents, had long been simmering largely over Powers’ resistance to a number of market-driven proposals introduced in 2008 to change higher education in Texas. Since 2008, the feud has at times devolved into farce, as when Regent Wallace Hall embarked on a witch hunt against Powers that saw him pull in hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that cost the University close to $1 million to provide. It still isn’t entirely clear what leverage Cigarroa thought he had last month to deliver the death blow to Powers. Some have speculated that it may have involved new information regarding Powers’ role in what has been called an admissions “scandal” to admit to the University the underqualified acquaintances of state legislators. When asked in writing for help in securing such applicants admission to the University, Powers had been known to pass along the letter to the admissions office and respond with a form letter. Given the lack of any further information, we doubt that any smoking gun actually exists.

Now that Powers has announced his resignation, the regents will begin to search for his replacement, a task that will be made much easier by the presence of a leader at the helm of the System. While the plan all along was for Cigarroa’s replacement to be in place before Powers’, McRaven’s selection will likely do two things: catalyze interest in the position and give it direction. The mere presence of a leader will lend an air of security and stability, while onlookers until now on the fence about applying will begin to self-select as a result of McRaven’s military credentials. Some may appreciate his leadership ability while others of a purely academic bent may turn their noses up at his lack of academic credentials. 

It remains to be seen exactly what effect the appointment of McRaven will have, so students should pay close attention this fall.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

He didn't come to the dinner party.

That much we knew from the documents.

On Tuesday evening, the UT System Board of Regents confirmed Admiral William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, as the sole finalist for the position of UT System chancellor. Under state law, McRaven will have to wait at least 21 days, in this case until the regents' August meeting, to be officially appointed. McRaven is best known for leading the 2011 operation that took down Osama bin Laden and, more recently, for a rousing commencement address at UT last semester.

The decision didn't come as a surprise. News outlets across the state had been reporting the likely selection for days, many with clear signs of boredom and exhaustion.

However, back in May, the information about McRaven, which admittedly came by way of a leak, was much less available. When the Texan filed an open records request with the System for any and all documents regarding the admiral, it turned up nothing.

Nothing except a few water-cooler emails, one of which included the idea by Regent Gene Powell, approved by Chairman Paul Foster, to invite McRaven to a dinner party hosted by the regents and System staff at the Bauer House, the chancellor's official residence in West Austin.

McRaven didn't show up. More precisely, he couldn't come.

Luckily for him, the regents didn't mind.

Not so luckily for us, we still don't know how they made up their minds.

Since current Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced his resignation in February, the board has never once openly discussed his replacement, except to announce the hiring of an executive search firm to assist it. As evidenced by our meager haul from the May open records request, the regents know better than to put important information in a requestable format.

While we can't see that the regents have done anything illegal in this case, this sort of secrecy is all too common within the System, not just in the search for a new chancellor, but in its more general operations. Early this month, it was only through a leak to Breitbart Texas and several other outlets that the news of President William Powers Jr.’s potential firing became public. Powers was ultimately “spared” in the sense that Cigarroa accepted his offer to resign next June. And the ongoing drama between Powers and Cigarroa (as well as interloper Wallace Hall) has unfolded largely behind closed doors.

We understand that not all personnel discussions need to be made public. In fact, doing so would encumber both the regents and the public with an unrealistic expectation of openness in the case of the former and attentiveness in the case of the latter.

However, the chancellor is no pencil pusher. As the leader of the 15-campus University of Texas System, he or she serves as the face of a group of universities and health institutions with an operating budget of $14.6 billion. With such a great level of responsibility, the University community and taxpayers deserve more transparency in the selection process.

Unfortunately, the current regents do not seem likely to grant us that basic right. After all, if they exposed all the forces at play in their decisions, the already aggravated tensions between them and the public would likely be strained to the breaking point.

We don't necessarily dislike the regents' choice of McRaven, but we can't fully support a decision whose underpinnings we don't understand.

McRaven seems to have the near-universal support of the UT community, and although he is not an academic, the military has produced such great academic leaders as James Earl Rudder, former president of A&M and the A&M University System. Similarly, Robert Gates, not a military man but a former Secretary of Defense and director of the CIA, also served as president of A&M.

Thus it remains to be seen how McRaven will perform. He seems to have all the tools at his disposal to succeed, but until the regents and System lift the shroud of secrecy from his appointment, we cannot throw our full support behind it.

UT alumnus Vice Adm. William H. McRaven leads the special operations team that killed Osama bin Laden

Photo Credit: Courtesy of U.S. Navy | Daily Texan Staff

Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, a 1977 UT journalism alumnus, commands the unit that planned and executed the raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden on Sunday.

McRaven took over leadership of the more than 60,000 troops in the Joint Special Operations Command in 2008. McRaven is a highly decorated Navy SEAL who participated in the Naval ROTC program while at UT. Awards during his 35-year career include the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit and Defense Superior Service Medal. McRaven is the highest-ranking active duty UT Naval ROTC graduate, according to a University press release from November.

“I was fascinated that somebody with a journalism degree had gone to special forces and been a SEAL,” said retired Adm. Bobby Inman, a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. “He has demonstrated that he is truly a distinguished graduate of the University.”

Inman met McRaven when the vice admiral was honored at the UT-Oklahoma State University game in November as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of ROTC. The two men shared what life is like both in the Navy and as a veteran and discussed McRaven’s career opportunities. Inman said McRaven spoke highly of his experience at UT.

McRaven’s success as the commander of JSOC reflects the leadership and intelligence that Longhorn and ROTC graduates are known for, Inman said.

“They’re leaders. They’re quick on their feet, logical in their thinking, able to interact with people effectively so they can be first rate leaders,” he said. “It was such an easy flowing conversation, talking about activities and events around the world. It is clear he is a very, very bright guy.”

McRaven will take over as Special Operations Command Chief from Adm. Eric Olson. Olson was the first Navy SEAL to hold the post, and McRaven will be the second, Inman said. SOCOM oversees all of the U.S. military’s special operations units, including JSOC.