Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board –
I am writing to express my support for President Bill Powers in the strongest possible terms. You are of course aware of the swirling rumors intimating threats to President Powers’ position and concern that the Board could act to remove him from his post. I will not pretend to know your minds or the factors influencing your judgment on this issue, so let me instead focus on the vital importance of President Powers to Texas.
Serving as Regent is a great honor, and with that honor comes an attendant duty that is just as great – a duty to Texas. Not simply to the University of Texas, or to the entire UT System, but to the state itself. The mission of The University to stand as ‘a University of the first class’ is a sacred one, and one that has never been more important to the future of our state. The society we live in, the economy that sustains us, the technology that advances us and the culture that defines us are all shaped by leaders – the men and women who have the intelligence, drive, knowledge and ability to elevate and re-define their fields of endeavor. As we enter a future where America will face unprecedented challenges in the global economy, and where individual states will likely have to look to their own fortunes with less help available from the federal government, the development of these leaders in Texas is absolutely vital.
A University of the first class is capable of developing these leaders, but that capability is imperiled unless the University itself possesses outstanding leadership. In his six years to date, Bill Powers has demonstrated time and again that he is the outstanding leader that a University of the first class deserves. Under his stewardship, the University has enhanced its reputation in academia, research and student development against a backdrop of the worst economic upheaval in eighty years. No one can predict what fresh challenges the future will bring to our nation, our state or our University, but with Bill Powers serving as President I have tremendous confidence in the University’s ability to meet those challenges and thrive.
Of course, you are aware that much of the discussion around President Powers’ future has become intertwined with the highest political office in our state as well as with a vision championed by that office as to the future of higher education in Texas.
As to the politics – there was a time when the political realm could be trusted to act in good faith to evaluate and work in concert with educators towards the advancement of higher education. As politics in our state and nation have devolved from an enterprise for advancing society to an exercise in the division of society’s spoils, that time is long past. The state’s politicians have done enough to imperil our collective future by cutting funding for higher education – to think that any politician could or would directly harm the state’s flagship institution by removing an outstanding leader at a whim is unconscionable. Again, the prospect of such an action is still within the realm of rumor. Were it to come to pass, however, I am confident that ANYONE involved in such an action would face the consequences of the fury and outrage of tens of thousands of leaders across every segment of Texas society whose fortunes were shaped by the University of Texas.
As to the vision – among the ‘seven breakthrough solutions’ that shaped this new vision, there are some elements of merit and others where reasonable minds can disagree and discuss. What cannot be conscioned, however, is any outcome that undermines the ability of The University to offer the most exceptional education possible. I was fortunate enough to benefit from two outstanding undergraduate programs during my time at Texas – the Plan II Liberal Arts Honors program and the Honors Business program. I am proud that this education was on par with what even America’s most elite universities could offer, and prouder still that these programs have continued to gain in strength and stature since my graduation in 1998. These programs and others like them at the University serve as an example for the kind of transformative educational experience that we should strive to provide to every Longhorn. Much of the ‘vision’ entrenched in the Governor’s office has to do with providing an efficient education for productive members of society. While there is merit to that vision, it is in no way the same as providing a transformative education for the future LEADERS of society – THAT is the mission of a University of the first class, and that mission must not be compromised by policy or the removal of leaders who can insure its fulfillment.
The direction of The University of Texas has always been vital to the future of our great state. As stewards of that direction, your actions in preserving the greatness of our University will be judged now and for years to come. In this matter, the Eyes of Texas truly are upon you, and I trust that you will embrace your duty to Texas in a manner commensurate with the honor that Texas has bestowed upon you.