Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Crisis at The University of Texas

A forced resignation or firing would be a travesty for UT.
 – Kay Bailey Hutchinson
Former U.S. Senator and Current President of Texas Exes

Texas Politics is much like watching a soap opera.  If you miss an episode, you miss a lot but you can always catch up.  It seems as though many of us have missed a few episodes when it comes to The University of Texas at Austin and they current predicament that they find themselves in.  This artificially made “scandal” has been fermenting over the course of the course of the past year.  Please understand that like most soap operas, there is a long, intricate, convoluted story to it all so for the sake of keeping it simple, the present urgency is what I will address.   The “How did this Happen?” not near as important as the “What can we do about it now?”

What is ultimately at stake is the job of UT’s President Bill Powers.  A conservative special interest group named, Empower Texans, has made the claims that students that have recommendation letters from Texas Legislators have been given preferential treatment in admissions into The University of Texas.  Their motives for pursuing this so relentlessly has been questionable to say the least (I theorize that the firing of uber-conservative Law School Dean, Lawrence Sager is the foundation of it - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_G._Sager and Governor Rick Perry’s attempt to influence Powers is also to blame).  Outside counsel was asked to look into this matter to see if there was any validity to the accusations.  It was investigated and his report said that despite there was nothing to it.  Administratively, Wallace Hall has been the point person on the UT Board of Regents that has been pushing the theory of wrong doing by President Powers and UT Admissions.  Despite the report of no wrongdoing, Empower Texans and Hall have been on a crusade to turn this into a full blown scandal.  This obsession with this matter has known absolutely no bounds.  His open records requests have cost the University tens of thousands of tax payer money.  His “investigation” has also potentially violated the privacy of UT students to the point where the Travis County Attorney is now investigating his actions.  In December 2013, a marathon Board of Regents meeting was held to determine if President Powers should remain in his position.  The meeting ended with Bill Powers remaining as President Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa giving a lukewarm endorsement.  Wallace Hall’s over-the-top behavior has finally driven the Texas Legislature to act with the House Transparency Committee (with a 7-1 vote) recommending his impeachment from the UT Board of Regents which is unprecedented for a non-elected official (http://ballotpedia.org/Wallace_Hall_impeachment_trial).  Since this has never been done before, the articles of impeachment are being drawn up and explicit instructions were given to the Board of Regents not to do anything until this matter has been resolved.  Furthermore, Chancellor Cigarroa has since resigned in February to accept a position at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio and step down once a replacement has been found. 

Last week, it was reported that Chancellor Cigarroa has requested that Bill Powers resigns before he is terminated before the end of the week (July 12th).  This is extremely concerning.  Why would this kind of decision be made by the Board of Regents at this time after being instructed not to take any actions?  Why would Chancellor Cigarroa move forward with this knowing that he will not be in his current position by the end of the year?  This whole thing completely reeks of meddling into the academic world by special interests and overly partisan influence.  Why is it so important to immediately terminate a highly regarded school president?  Are some individuals worried about how this could affect some elections that are taking place this November?  Look at the individuals who are pressing for Bill Powers firing.  Rick Perry, who will not be here in November, supports firing Powers (Many Aggies need not be reminded of Perry’s interference at Texas A&M administration a couple of years ago).  Dan Patrick supports firing.  Michael Quinn Sullivan supports firing Powers.  Empower Texans supports firing Bill Powers.  Keep in mind that Michael Quinn Sullivan and Empower Texans have their own legal troubles with their stubborn refusals to register with the Texas Ethics Commission and to release the names of their donors that support their overly partisan operations.  That begs the question, who are these donors who are funding this crusade against Bill Powers?  Are they seeking a Board of Regent position?  Do they want to turn UT as well as other schools into a “$10,000 degree plan diploma mill”?  Why the urgency on this matter?  Do Texans support partisan politicians interfering on what is supposed to be an independent, academic facility?  Are Texans prepared for The University of Texas to take a hard right in its administration knowing that these are the same individuals that have battled against higher education for years?  Are alumni at other schools prepared for their school to have the same kind of interference?  If you are the president of Texas A&M, Texas Tech, or Stephen F. Austin would now be inclined to bow to political pressure from individuals from any party since it could possibly mean your job?  How can a University operate under those kinds of conditions?   

This is a complicated matter and it is extremely hard to explain.  I have simplified to the best of my ability but the urgency cannot be understated.  Call or email your local state officials and demand that no action be taken against President Bill Powers until the impeachment of Wallace Hall takes its course.  As you can see, there are far too many questions that need to be asked before an action like firing the President of a University takes place.  Bill Powers has the support of students, faculty, and alumni.  He does not deserve to be terminated.  Education in Texas has been under attack from the State Legislature for the last 20 years.  It is time to take a stand.  Higher education in Texas is depending on your actions.

Hook ‘Em
Shane Hardin
The University of Texas at Austin, ‘97

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