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.

U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven, who led the mission that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, pictured here at the Champions of Justice Gala Benefitting Veterans in May 2012.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

A year after he led the mission to apprehend Osama bin Laden, Adm. William H. McRaven returned to his alma mater to advocate for legal assistance for returning service women and men.

McRaven was the keynote speaker at the Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans Tuesday evening. The Texas Access to Justice Commission hosted the gala to raise funds for free civil legal services for low-income Texas veterans.

“There are people in the world who do nothing, but your military is doing something,” McRaven said. “I can’t think of a better cause than the work the commission is doing to also do something in this world.”

McRaven was in command of Operation Neptune’s Spear, the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden last May in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He currently serves as the ninth commander of United States Special Operations Command. McRaven graduated from UT in 1977 with a degree in journalism.

More than 1.8 million veterans currently live in Texas. Of these, 450,000 served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The justice commission raised more than $413,000 from the event with all proceeds going to free legal services for veterans.

Harry Reasoner, chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, said the commission works to help veterans through the continuous struggle of claiming the benefits they are entitled to,

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott were also honored at the gala for their work in helping provide funding for the commission. Texas distributes $1.5 billion in compensation and pension to veterans and surviving family members each year, according to the Texas Veterans Commission’s website.

Head football coach Mack Brown introduced McRaven, who he called an American hero. Brown said he learned what leadership was when he visited the Middle East in 2009.

“I took more from those men and women than they took from me, but I learned that leadership is taught. It’s not recruited,” he said. “Admiral McRaven is a special man. He’s a special leader, and he leads a special group.”

McRaven said today’s generation of service men and women are sometimes judged because of their appearance and varied ways of life, but their commitment to the values of the U.S. remains intact.

“Today’s generation of service men and women may have tattoos, piercings and Facebooks, but you are wrong if you don’t think they will go down as the greatest generation of our time,” McRaven said.

President William Powers Jr., a veteran himself, said the University was honored to have McRaven back on the 40 Acres.

Powers said the work of the commission provides returning veterans, including UT students, with valuable resources in terms of legal aid.

“There’s definitely more to do for our students that are returning veterans, but I think if you asked them they would say that UT is setting the standard for veteran services at universities,” Powers said. “Our soldiers provide a great service and when they are our students, well, I can’t think of a better combination.”

The University also offers student veterans various resources on campus through Student Veteran Services and the Students Veterans Association.

McRaven talked about the impact growing up in Texas had on his life and how that impact was something he took everywhere the military took him.

During his speech, McRaven told the story of a former colleague and friend that was killed in the line of duty. He, like many other Texas soldiers, upheld the ideal his father taught him, that Texans should stand a little taller and reach a little further, he said.

“When they come back to Texas, they will make you proud, and it’s our responsibility to help them,” he said. “Texas is a way of life and our soldiers are the type of people who pull up their boots and do something about it because of it.”

Printed on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 as: Gala raises money for returning Texas veterans