UT System officially appoints James B. Milliken as new chancellor after McRaven’s departure

Maria Mendez

The UT System Board of Regents officially appointed James B. Milliken, the former City University of New York chancellor, as its new chancellor at a special meeting on Monday.

After naming the long-time higher education leader as the sole finalist for the role three weeks ago, the regents voted unanimously to confirm him as chancellor, as required per Texas law.

“Let me officially welcome you to the University of Texas System Board of Regents,” Board Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker said after the vote. “We look forward to our time together.”

Milliken is expected to formally become the System’s 12th chancellor on Sept. 17, and is chancellor designee effective immediately. After his appointment, Milliken held a press conference and said he was optimistic about the future of higher education, especially in Texas.

"I would not have been attracted to very many opportunities at this point in my career, but the UT System … is the one place I would leave New York for because of the potential here, the opportunity here and the capacity here,” Milliken said.

Milliken’s appointment concludes the months-long search for the highest leader of Texas’ largest university system, which began after William McRaven announced his retirement from the role in December due to health concerns. Former UT-Austin President Larry Faulkner has been serving as interim chancellor since McRaven’s departure in May.

As the chief executive officer of the UT System, Milliken will set the vision and direction of growth for the 14 UT universities and health institutions across Texas. As the face of the UT System, Milliken will also have to secure public support and state funding for UT institutions during the 2019 legislative session.

McRaven, the Navy Admiral famed for organizing the takedown of Osama bin Laden, became a surprising pick for UT System chancellor in 2014 and experienced pushback from state leaders during his three years as chancellor. Milliken said he had already met with Governor Greg Abbott recently, and would soon start making phone calls to meet with state leaders.

“I’ve spent 30 years in higher education in three states with very different political systems,” Milliken said during the conference. “You can’t do anything in higher education without close partnerships with the leaders in state government…I will certainly do everything I can to encourage the investment in the UT System.”

Milliken, who is 61 and a Nebraska native, has served as as the senior vice president of the 16-campus system of the University of North Carolina from 1998 to 2004 and the president of the University of Nebraska four-campus system from 2004 to 2014.

Most recently, Milliken led the extensive CUNY system, which includes roughly 274,000 students and 24 institutions, as chancellor from 2014 until the last academic year because of a diagnosis of throat cancer. UT System Spokeswoman Randa Safady told the Austin American-Statesman Milliken has since been cleared of health concerns.

Milliken is credited with helping increase access and student support to CUNY, which is known for its ethnically diverse and largely low-income student body. Through an initiative called Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, Milliken provided CUNY students consolidated class schedules, tutoring, free MetroCard fare and ultimately improved CUNY’s graduation rates, according to the Texas Tribune.

Although Milliken said it was too soon to speak about his specific goals as chancellor, he said ensuring UT-Austin remains a research leader will be one of his goals. Milliken said he also met with UT-Austin President Gregory Fenves to learn about UT’s support for low-income students and that affordability is one of his interests for the UT System.

“What drives me today in large part is the very firm conviction that there is no better driver of social mobility than American public higher education,” Milliken said.