Source: Regents have votes to oust Powers

Texas president Bill Powers has survived at least four attempts to have him ousted as part of a three-year feud with a block of four UT regents appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. But there are now five votes on the nine-person UT regents board to end Powers' tenure, a source close to the situation has told HornsDigest.com.

For three years, a block of UT regents appointed by Perry - Wallace Hall, Alex Cranberg, Vice Chairman Eugene Powell and Brenda Pejovich - represented a block opposing Powers.

But there was never a fifth vote on the board to vote out Powers.

HornsDigest.com has learned that Board of Regents chairman Paul Foster has become the fifth and deciding vote to oust Powers as UT president at a regents meeting on Thursday.

An agenda item for the regents meeting was posted on Monday to have "discussion and take appropriate action" on Powers based on a recommendation from Texas executive vice chancellor Raymond S. Greenberg.

Outgoing Texas chancellor Francisco Cigarroa last week delivered the message to Powers, 68, that his eight-year tenure as UT president would be coming to an end. This week, Cigarroa released a statement explaining his actions.

"Everything I do is in the best interest of The University of Texas," Cigarroa said. "In recent days I have been accused of acting at the direction of the governor or some members of the Board of Regents in this decision and of taking steps that will ultimately damage UT Austin. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"I have supported Bill Powers consistently for the last five years, but this latest decision originates with the UT System’s Office of Academic Affairs and my office and is based on a breakdown of communication, collegiality, trust and a willingness to work together for the good of the university."

Right now, the only suspense seems to be the timeline for Powers stepping down.

Cigarroa expressed to Powers he could finish serving as chairman of the Association of American Universities (the most prestigious research institutions in the country) in October before stepping down.

Powers has indicated he'd be willing to step down at the end of the 2014-15 school year, a source close to the situation told HornsDigest.com.

But the regents may call for Powers to step down immediately.

The spin cycles on both sides are working overtime. The anti-Powers forces are trying to say Powers was directly involved with admitting unqualified friends and family of politicians into UT and UT's law school - primarily Democrats.

Those who support Powers say a nine-month investigation by the chancellor's office found no evidence of wrongdoing by Powers as it pertained to UT admissions and no evidence of quid pro quo.

Powers' supporters say any talk of that is purely a smokescreen for a political vendetta against Powers finally being carried out at the direction of Perry, who is not seeking re-election after 14 years in office (the longest serving governor in Texas history).

Even those on Powers' side say he can be difficult and hard-headed and that he may have finally aggravated Cigarroa one too many times after years of Cigarroa standing up for Powers.

After a five-hour discussion about Powers' future at a regents meeting in mid-December, Powers barely escaped with the support of Cigarroa and a narrow margin of support among the regents. After that meeting, Cigarroa said Powers didn't listen to him or respect the chancellor's office but that enough people did appreciate Powers that he gave him a weak vote of confidence.

Sources say a whistleblower has come forward from the admissions office with some new evidence incriminating Powers. Powers' supporters say it's all cover for Perry's desire to get rid of what conservative Republicans see as an out-of-touch, liberal school president who opposes Perry-supported higher-education reforms. Those controversial reforms - championed by wealthy UT alum and Perry ally Jeff Sandefer - figure to be cornerstones of any Perry White House bid in 2016.

Powers has long had the support of students, faculty, big-money donors and key members of the Legislature.

Powers, a former dean of the UT Law School with wide respect from his peers, has helped raise about $2.9 billion of the $3 billion Capital Campaign initiated by Powers in 2008.

A strong supporter of Texas athletics, Powers took an active role in guiding Texas through realignment in 2010 and 2011. And he made sure some of the $300 million being paid to Texas by ESPN for the rights to the Longhorn Network has gone to academics - to the tune of $5 million to $9 million per year since LHN's inception in 2011.

But some wonder if Powers lost traction with a few big-money donors after the way he handled Mack Brown's termination last December.

And there's no doubt some of Powers' key support in the Legislature is fading - none bigger than the defeat of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst by state Sen. Dan Patrick in the GOP primary. Dewhurst made sure the lieutenant governor's office, arguably the most powerful in the state, was vocal in support of Powers before his primary loss.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, seen as a Powers' supporter in the past, has been quiet this week.

When asked for comment, Straus spokesman Jason Embry offered this:

"While Speaker Straus respects the right of the Chancellor and the Board of Regents to make appropriate personnel decisions, he is very disappointed that they have not been forthcoming or respectful of the Legislature on a number of issues recently," Embry said.

"And he believes their mishandling of this latest controversy threatens serious harm to higher education in Texas."

Texas State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who alleged Hall abused his position as a regent to find dirt on Powers and then led impeachment hearings involving Hall, is retiring. And the future of those impeachment hearings is in limbo.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a UT graduate and the Republican nominee for governor, might be Powers' biggest hope for an 11th-hour save. But Abbott has been quiet this week and might not want to risk his political capital with a November election against Democratic Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis looming.

Moderate Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, a UT graduate and former U.S. senator who now heads the Texas Exes alumni organization, came out in support of Powers in an email titled "Urgent State of Affairs at UT-Austin."

Regarding the ultimatum given to Powers by Cigarroa to step down or be fired at Thursday's regents meeting, Hutchison wrote:

“It would cause further tension with legislators regarding UT System, would compound unrest among faculty, students, and alumni, and invoke serious harm to the institution’s reputation in the national spotlight.

“President Powers has advanced the university through many tremendous accomplishments, and has been a great leader; he deserves better than this. This is about our university; it is a treasure that alumni need to protect and we need to stand up and fight for its stature. The University of Texas at Austin deserves better than this.”

As Powers has balked at several of Perry's higher education reform initiatives, tensions between Powers and the regents increased.

Sensing that he was becoming a growing target, Powers tried to avoid stepping on any political landmines - including the idea of whether UT should condemn land in East Austin for a new basketball arena, sources told HornsDigest.com.

I was told any potential revelations in former women's track coach Bev Kearney's discrimination lawsuit against UT that reflected poorly on Powers could have been used by the regents to oust him. It seemed the anti-Powers' regents were always looking for a hook to hang Powers.

Now, it's allegations of admissions' office impropriety, which Powers denies.

Worn down and aggravated by the ongoing fight, Powers let it be known in some circles that he wanted simply to remain UT president longer than Perry remained governor, a source told HornsDigest.com.

That sentiment apparently reached Perry's office, the source said. Now, it appears both may be leaving their current positions by the end of the year.

Horns Digest Top Stories