Univ. of Texas regents may decide Powers' future

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Associated Press

Posted on December 12, 2013 at 2:32 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers may finally learn whether he'll continue to run one of the nation's largest campuses following a tumultuous two years of power struggles and speculation that his job is in jeopardy.

The UT System Board of Regents on Thursday is scheduled to discuss an unspecified "recommendation" about the employment of Powers. He is popular on the campus that he's led since 2006, but his vision for higher education has clashed with some regents and Gov. Rick Perry.

It's the first time regents have put Powers' job on an agenda — and the timing is interesting.

One of Powers' chief critics is a UT regent facing possible impeachment by a legislative committee, which has instructed regents not to take any action on campus leadership. The meeting also coincides with the uncertain future of Texas football coach Mack Brown, who counts Powers among his biggest supporters and has had a string of disappointing seasons.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat and one of the Legislature's most prominent voices on higher education, said she doesn't think regents would go against the orders of lawmakers and signaled her support of Powers.

"This is not about Bill Powers. This is about the big picture of higher education in general," Zaffirini said.

Spokespersons for both the UT system and Powers have declined comment on Thursday's closed-door meeting.

It's been a bruising two years for Powers in leading the 50,000-student campus. The tension began in 2011 when Perry began pushing a series of higher education reforms that called for more accountability on state campuses and lower costs. Academics on the state's largest campuses bristled at the proposals.

And in 2012, Perry backed UT regents when they rejected a tuition hike plan endorsed by Powers.

But speculation surrounding Powers has quieted recently. He bolstered his reputation in academia upon being named chairman of the Association of American Universities in October, and also received a public endorsement from new UT regents chairman Paul Foster this fall.

Other regents have a less favorable impression of Powers. Regent Wallace Hall faces possible impeachment over accusations that he misused his office in an attempt to force out Powers, who was expected to testify next week to lawmakers about Hall.

The Texas Coalition for Higher Education Excellence, formed in 2011 in wake of the higher education debate, has backed Powers.

"We certainly hope and expect (the) vote will be an endorsement of President Power's leadership," said Jennifer Sarver, a spokeswoman for the group, who counts Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly among its members.

Texas A&M is also putting leadership at the top of its agenda this week. Its regents are scheduled to vote Saturday on a new interim president to replace Bowen Loftin, who is leaving to become chancellor at the University of Missouri.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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