UT System names interim chancellor, approves $7 million loan to potentially run nuclear lab

Maria Mendez

The UT System Board of Regents named former UT-Austin President Larry R. Faulkner the interim chancellor during a Friday special meeting.

Faulkner, UT president from 1998 to 2006 and a renowned chemist, will begin leading the System June 1 until chancellor William Mcraven’s successor takes office. Faulkner told the Houston Chronicle he does not intend to stay in the role permanently.

"I expect a new chancellor to be in place well before the next legislative session starts," Faulkner told the Chronicle Friday.

Board Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker, who is leading the chancellor search, said the System’s search committee hopes to name a final candidate by the Regents retreat on July 11 and 12.

“Dr. Faulkner can step in seamlessly to continue to provide a high level of strategic leadership and support to all UT presidents and UT System Administration employees, and my colleagues on the Board and I look forward to working with him,” Board Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker said.

The Regents also unanimously voted to create a $7 million loan to potentially run the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the Friday meeting. Regent Rad Weaver abstained from the vote.

Through the System’s internal lending program, the loan will transfer $7 million to the limited liability company the System created as part of its proposal to run the historic nuclear research lab.

If the System wins the management contract for Los Alamos from the U.S. Department of Energy, the loan will help cover costs for a four-month transition period. The federal government will provide $12.5 million for transition costs to the contract winner, but System documents state this “modest” sum may not be enough to “engage its key personnel from day one” to address existing lab “risks.”

The System’s management company, which includes at least one undisclosed corporate partner, will pay back the loan once it receives additional federal funds. The loan will not be created if the System is not awarded the contract.

The Department of Energy is expected to announce the contract winner by the end of this month, according to the Austin-American Statesman.

The lab in New Mexico was first established for the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II and is currently run by the University of California and three companies.

Under the University of California, the lab failed to meet safety standards and has even shut down because of nuclear risks. With the University of California’s contract coming to an end, the Department requested contract proposals last June.

The System is now competing for the contract against Purdue University and a Texas A&M and University of California partnership, according to the Statesman.

The loan request from departing Chancellor McRaven is the latest financial effort to secure the contract. Last September, the Regents invested $4.5 million to begin crafting the management proposal.

McRaven and Regents Jeffery Hildebrand, Paul Foster, David Beck and Ernest Aliseda have said running the Los Alamos contract is a worthwhile investment that will bring opportunities and prestige to UT-Austin. But the Board narrowly voted 4-3 to formally bid for the contract last December.

Regents Janiece Longoria, Steve Hicks and Kevin P. Eltife voted against running the lab, noting financial and reputational risks for UT and the System. Longoria also said in December that UT officials and researchers also had concerns.