Tillerson could make a great chancellor

Liam Verses

The UT System administration is ramping up its search for a new chancellor as current Chancellor William McRaven steps down next month. Vice Chancellor Randa Safady stated that any names at this point are speculative, with only the advisory committee having direct knowledge of candidates. However, Ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might be a candidate for the position, and his leadership would be a welcome — and strong — addition to the UT System.

The position Tillerson would potentially fill reports directly to the Board of Regents and is responsible for executing the policies and procedures of the Board. Tillerson would serve as a state and federal advocate for higher education and interact regularly with elected officials, businesses, educational institutions, charitable and professional communities, the media and the public. Tillerson has experience dealing with these groups and has formed positive relationships with many of them.

The UT System contains 30 distinct entities, including eight universities. This organization requires someone who has experience leading a large institution. Exxon, while no means a direct comparison, is pretty close in terms of responsibility
and breadth.

Tillerson’s incredible leadership of Exxon — where he managed a company that had 80,000 employees, $400 billion in annual revenue, business across the globe and that rivaled some of the best in this country’s history — makes him uniquely qualified to fill McRaven’s shoes.

Government professor emeritus Bruce Buchanan stated that Tillerson’s position as “former Secretary of State and former chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil are certainly qualifying credentials.” And while Tillerson’s time at the Department of State was undistinguished, Buchanan added that “being Trump’s Secretary of State was a near-impossible task for Tillerson (or anyone else) because of the president’s impolitic ‘America First’ rhetoric, his slurring references to ‘shithole’ African countries and his inflammatory tweets.”

Although many foreign policy experts agree that Tillerson fumbled with Iran, North Korea and Qatar during his time at the state department, his refusal to bow to President Trump shows an independent mindset unyielding to stifling political pressure. His fundamental disagreements with the current administration on foreign policy should, if anything, be a point in his favor. In addition, his experience in government and the private sector granted Tillerson valuable relationships across the public and private spectrum that could be used to advocate for UT.

According to Tillerson’s former classmate Alex Cranberg, “Rex is what you would expect to get when you cross a Boy Scout with an engineer — straight and meticulous.” Tillerson even served as president of the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that extols respect, integrity and grit. 

While many characterize Tillerson as nothing more than the traditional Texas oilman, Tillerson isn’t exactly what he appears to be: He helped lower Exxon’s contributions to climate change denial groups and said that the U.S. should be involved in the Paris climate accords, two actions that run contrary to the goals of an oil company. He’s old-fashioned with a forward-looking bent, and that makes him a great fit for the UT System — schools grounded in tradition and committed to creating positive change. 

Whether or not Tillerson meets the requirements of strong character, excellent judgment and an ability to lead and inspire an executive team at the best-in-class level can only be judged by the Board of Regents. But in every other respect — including prior experience, mindset, work ethic and tenacity — Tillerson seems like an excellent choice to lead the UT System.

Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering freshman from San Antonio.