From meeting with big Texas characters to enjoying delicate appetizers, President William Powers Jr. worked from sunrise to sunset Friday, and The Daily Texan went along for the ride.
Meetings, speeches and receptions filled the day and left few moments for meals and recharging. Today is what I’d call the ceremonial side of my job, Powers said.
On the Main Mall, Powers presented the Air Force ROTC the President’s Cup, an athletic competition between the ROTC branches that he started five years ago. The Air Force ROTC presented Powers with a T-shirt that he put on over his button-up dress shirt. Students teased that his untucked shirt was not within ROTC regulations. Powers said he tries not to pick sides, but he’s a Navy guy.
Powers caught up with emails, read The Daily Texan and conversed with colleagues about issues such as the recent tobacco ban on campus. Powers is a cigar smoker and said, “At this very moment, I’m missing them.”
The University Budget met for several hours to discuss a variety of issues, including how the UT System Board of Regents delay in setting tuition will affect preparation of the budget.
Former Student Government Vice President Ashley Baker met with Powers for a private discussion. “I’ll have days where students come in for advice.” Powers said it’s easy for him to understand and sympathize with students, as he has five kids of his own.
Powers rushed over to the dedication of the Student Activity Center in honor of Margaret Berry, beloved almuna and retired University administrator. As he had trouble finding the ceremony in time for his speech, he joked, “It will be the Margaret Berry Auditorium when I say it is!”
Director of Development Lee Bash looked over at Powers as he hurried away from the stage to talk to someone. “He does that. Ninety seconds to go, and he’s like ‘I’ve got something to do over here,’” Bash said.
Powers introduced Berry after she was introduced by Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Rep. Lloyd Doggett and two alumni who were greatly influenced by her work. “It’s quite impossible to measure the impact of someone like Dr. Berry,” Powers said. “At the end of the day, we’re left with the greatest superlative of all — love.” While talking about the opportunities she’d tried to create for students to keep them plugged into college, Berry said, “Don’t ever count one out. Give them another chance. Sometimes you have to do a little pushing.”
A participant at the reception yelled “Dr. Powers — picture!” to which he responded with a smile and a chance for the snapshot. While speaking to UT System Regent Alex Cranberg, Powers said he thought Berry “was nervous, but when she got up and looked out and it wasn’t a crowd, it was people she knew,” she felt more comfortable. Powers said he grabs coffee from the SAC some mornings and it’s nice to see students sitting on the inside steps, studying.
Two University administrators met with Powers in preparation for this week’s meeting of the Association of American Universities. They discussed improving college readiness and expanding the online courses offered from UT and other universities. Powers said online courses can provide enrichment opportunities for students.
Powers met privately with Ajay Nair, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania. Nair is one of four candidates chosen as a finalist for vice president for Student Affairs.
In the president’s library, about 20 people gathered with wine in hand as the ExxonMobil Foundation presented the University with more than $1.1 million. Business Dean Thomas Gilligan walked onto the wraparound porch that has sweeping views of the Capitol, the stadium and IH-35, close to where the UT baseball team would play the Oklahoma State Cowboys that evening. “Are you going to the baseball game tonight?” Gilligan asked. “I’ve actually got two dinners,” Powers said. The booming sound test for Forty Acres Fest crashed into the peaceful setting.
With a diminishing voice, Powers formally thanked the Exxon representatives for the donation and Exxon’s continued partnership with the University through research, UTeach and career services.
Joe Alba, Coordinator for Office of the President, navigates traffic to get to the Four Seasons Hotel for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Chancellors, the UT Law School’s top honor society. Powers needed to get back to the tower for a speech at 6:30 p.m., but explained that he’s making an appearance for his friend, UT Law professor David Anderson.
Powers hopped out of the car and made his way into the reception toward Anderson to talk for a few minutes before it was back out to the car. However, his exit was a continuous parade of ‘hellos’ and handshakes. Former Houston Mayor Bill White stopped Powers and told his entourage, “This guy and I practiced law together way back when.”
Back in the car, Alba maneuvered the car into Inner Campus Drive within a few minutes. Powers read over his notes for his next speech.
Council members of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies seated themselves in Main 212, the meeting room which had been transformed into a dinner setting with covered tables, flower centerpieces and glistening place settings. Members include UT alumni Teresa Lozano Long and Joe Long, donors to the institute and the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
Powers took to the podium, glanced through his reading glasses at his notes, and said “I know I’m between you and dinner, so I’ll try to be brief.” He said he’s traveled to Brazil about 17 times, more than any other country, and said Latin American studies is important across campus.
“It offers us countless opportunities,” Powers said as he took off his glasses. “It’s a big area and we’re just scratching the surface. We are, as a university, on the doorstep of Latin America. We ought to take advantage of it.”
In the morning, Powers said some days are consumed with meetings and other days revolve around talking to potential students, which he said is among his favorite type of day “because they’re so excited.” However, Powers said another type of day makes the top of his list.
“This may sound odd,” Powers said. “But I like days when I’m actually solving issues.”
Printed on Monday, April 16th, 2012 as: 12 Hours with President Powers