On the surface, it may be a decision that only affects the academic side of things, but if you look closer, what the University of Texas’ Board of Regents and outgoing university president Bill Powers agreed upon Wednesday has a ripple effect.
Powers announced that he would step down effective June 2, 2015, after a long-running dispute with the board.
Now here is my attempt to describe the dispute without getting too political. Powers, the chair of the American Association of Universities, and Gov. Rick Perry have had ideological differences over how the university would be run and, specifically, the cost of tuition.
Perry is in favor of a tuition freeze and his education reforms could be a platform of a second run at the Republican presidential nomination. Every member of the board has been appointed by Perry. Powers gave the board all the ammo it needed to attempt a vote of action to fire him when it was discovered that Powers helped applicants with ties to his political allies get into the UT law school.
Since he took office in February 2006, Powers has always been a supporter of athletics and helped the highest revenue producing athletics department coexist well with one of the biggest research institutions in the nation. Because of this, the game-day experience contributed to the overall UT experience.
I saw this firsthand; from the time I transferred into UT for the spring of 2006 semester until the day I graduated in May 2009.
Powers, along with figures like former athletic director DeLoss Dodds, former head football coach Mack Brown, current men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes and baseball coach Augie Garrido, helped UT athletics thrive in the past 15 years.
Powers helped UT get through the rounds of conference realignment in the summers of 2010 and 2011 and was there when ESPN made a deal to set up the Longhorn Network.
He often accompanied teams for the best of the best, like BCS championship game appearances, trips to the College World Series and NCAA Volleyball National Championships.
But he’s also been there for the worst of the worst, like the decline of the UT football team since 2010.
Powers has been there for the expansion of Royal-Memorial Stadium, the addition of a new video replay scoreboard (affectionately known as Godzillatron) and renovations to Disch-Falk Field.
During my time at UT, there were always construction cranes, reflecting Powers’ vision in making the university first class. Since I walked across the stage, UT has opened the $54 million Belo Center for New Media and has broken ground on the $334 million Dell Medical School, a school that has a $295 million partnership with the Seton Healthcare Family.
Now the athletics department turns to the question of who is next. Until then, fans, recruits and even new head coaches and athletic directors will be left to wonder whom they will be working for beginning next summer.
And you know this soap opera and uncertainty will be used against UT in recruiting circles.