UT students will stand up for Bill Powers

If the UT System Board of Regents attempts to unseat President William Powers Jr., UT students will rattle their noisemakers and howl in objection. Powers commands wide appeal among a student population so large, diverse and disparate that its members have little else in common beyond agreeing they like their president a lot — he is a congenial guy.

Suggesting that the regents plan to fire Powers may seem alarmist and surprising given his record-breaking fundraising success during his UT tenure, but murmurs in recent months and days indicate that may indeed be the case.

On Monday on the Texas Senate floor, the regents came under fire for bullying the University’s beloved president when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and several state senators stood up in support of Powers, praising his accomplishments and questioning his critics’ motives. Citing cases of “character assassination,” Dewhurst said, “I’m particularly troubled when I see UT regents go around this man. I see them trying to micromanage the system.”

President Powers’ job security has been also the subject of media speculation. A Feb. 15 blog post by Paul Burka, the editor of Texas Monthly, warned of “unfavorable” developments regarding Powers, who has purportedly “been hounded for months by regents appointed by Rick Perry.” In an earlier May 2012 post, Burka wrote, “UT President Bill Powers may be in danger of losing his job as a result of his opposition to Governor Perry’s insistence on a tuition freeze.”

On the Senate floor, Dewhurst also alluded to letters defaming Powers’ character, possibly originating from the regents. Dewhurst didn’t provide specifics, but at times during his speech, he seemed to be on the verge of tears.

Other lawmakers, including Texas Senate and House Higher Education Committee Chairmen Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, came out in support of the UT president. Branch filed a pair of resolutions honoring Powers’ achievements at the University, and Seliger accused the regents of micromanaging the University’s day-to-day operations when they should be limiting themselves to broader policy decisions. After the speeches, the Senate gave Powers a standing ovation and posed with him for a group photo.

At a time when Powers’ continued leadership of this University appears in jeopardy as a result of the regents’ machinations, state lawmakers are right to defend him. Developments in the Texas Legislature this session thus far have been a circus void of principle and backbone. We were reassured seeing the legislative branch of our state government recognize Powers’ commitment to UT, even as Gov. Rick Perry — and the nine regents, many of whom have made significant financial contributions to Perry’s political campaigns — attempt to wield disproportionate power over this University. We know that, should the time come, Bill Powers has the support of UT students behind him, too.