A report Wednesday night in a reliable Texas blog that some members of the University of Texas Board of Regents were maneuvering to fire Bill Powers as president of the Austin campus had students and faculty members rallying behind Powers on Thursday. Regents who are close to Governor Rick Perry are reportedly angry that Powers has argued for small tuition increases for his campus, rather than the tuition freeze requested by Perry. Powers has also defended his faculty members from criticisms made by a think tank with close ties to Perry. Hours after the blog post revealed the tensions, students had created Facebook pages to line up support. In less than 24 hours, I Stand With Bill Powers had nearly 10,000 members, most of them students and alumni.
Many wrote that they trusted Powers's views of the university's budget needs and that they worried about the impact of the board rejecting his tuition requests or firing him. One woman who graduated last year wrote: "I full-heartedly support President Bill Powers as the President of our esteemed university. I know that if he leaves, the results will be devastating. There would be no top-quality candidate that would wish to work at a university where politics play such a heavy handed role, and where such a leader is not free to voice his opinion without fear of retaliation. President Powers has been an incredible driving force in raising the standard, rigor, and value of a University of Texas degree, and should continue to do so."
Faculty leaders were circulating a resolution Thursday, on which they hope to vote Monday, to back Powers. "Recognizing the extraordinary efforts exerted by UT Austin President Bill Powers and his administrative team in support of the recent proposal for a modest, well-documented, and crucial tuition increase, the Faculty Council strongly commends them for seeking to protect and enhance the quality of our students' education and the value of their degrees, as well as the research and public service achievements of the faculty. The fact that the regents ultimately rejected the proposal diminishes neither the campus's need for such financial support nor the efforts made to attain it," the resolution says.
Late Thursday, Powers released a short statement: "I love The University of Texas, and it’s an honor to serve as its president. I am deeply grateful for the support of our students, faculty, staff, and the thousands of members of the UT family. I will continue to work with the entire UT community to move the university forward. At this moment, I am focused on the more than 8,000 students who will graduate next week and make immeasurable contributions to society -- extending the university’s legacy of excellence and our positive impact on Texas."
Paul Burka, a well-connected writer at The Texas Monthly,blogged Wednesday night -- to the alarm of many faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin -- that the job of President Bill Powers may be in jeopardy. Burka wrote that he had learned of a move by University of Texas regents to remove Powers because of his opposition to a tuition freeze. Governor Rick Perry, a Republican who has selected the regents, has pushed the tuition freeze. Powers has argued that the university can maintain access through financial aid, and that some additional tuition revenue is needed to assure the best possible educational experience for students. Powers has also rejected many of the criticisms made of the university system by a think tank close to Perry.
Burka wrote: "I was told that the situation is fluid and may be happening as I write. My understanding, based on what a source with knowledge of the proceedings has conveyed, is that regents’ chairman Gene Powell asked Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to recommend that Powers be fired. Cigarroa refused. The next step will likely be a special meeting of the board to take action. I have no indication that notice of the meeting has been posted."
A spokesman for UT Austin said via e-mail to Inside Higher Ed that that the university would offer no comment on Burka's report.
In the federally mandated regulation that all distance education programs must obtain authorization from every state in which they enroll students, a much-touted solution has been a reciprocity agreement, under which states would agree to accept each other's authorization and spare large distance education programs from making up to 50 different applications. The Presidents' Forum and the Council of State Governments released a draft of such an agreement this week. The details of the authorization requirements are still scant, and will depend in part on the states who decide to join the effort, but the agreement would require minimum standards, including accreditation and legally mandated disclosures.
A later draft should be complete by this fall, and states are expected to begin joining the reciprocity agreement some time next year. The federal state authorization requirement has been challenged in court, but even if it is struck down, many believe that states will continue to enforce their own authorization rules.
A panel of the California State University Board of Trustees has endorsed a plan that it hopes will halt intense criticism of the board's moves to increase pay for campus presidents at a time of deep budget cuts. The plan would freeze state-funded pay for campus presidents, but allow foundations to provide new presidents with additional pay up to 10 percent more than that received by their predecessors, The Los Angeles Times reported. So far, critics aren't dropping their concerns. "They are trying to run it like a for-profit business, but we're a public university, so it's the citizens that are really paying," said Liz Cara, a professor of occupational therapy at San Jose State University.
The University of Pittsburgh is joining the ranks of public universities responding to budget constraints by restructuring how it administers its campuses. The university announced Monday that it would have two of its (five) regional campuses report to a single president, and centralize numerous administrative functions for the campuses. Under the arrangement, the president of Pitt's Bradford campus, Livingston Alexander, will oversee the university's Titusville campus as well, with Titusville's current provost becoming a campus dean (responsible for day-to-day oversight) and reporting to Alexander. The announcement did not estimate how much the realignment might save.
Anthony Tricoli has quit as president of Georgia Perimeter College, which is facing a $16 million budget shortfall, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The college is planning to suspend contracts, cut travel and delay hiring, among other steps to deal with the shortfall.
Ohio State University has spent more than $800,000 on President Gordon Gee's travel expenses since 2007, including more than $550,000 in the last two years, The Dayton Daily News reported. Ohio State officials noted the value of Gee's travel, in reaching donors and others, and in spreading the word about Ohio State across the world. But the newspaper noted that Gee's travel expenses exceeded not only those of two Ohio governors, but also of the presidents of other big public universities with global ambitions and intense fund-raising efforts -- the Universities of Michigan, North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Virginia.
Sweet Briar College, faced with financial difficulties caused by lower than desired enrollment levels, is shrinking its faculty, and eliminating two majors, The Lynchburg News & Advance reported. The college has 605 students, but has room on campus for 750-800. Sweet Briar plans to cut the equivalent of 11 full-time faculty positions (though some of the cuts will be of part-timers), bringing the faculty size down to the equivalent of 85 full-time positions. The majors that will be eliminated are German and engineering management. Sweet Briar has been struggling with attracting more students since 2009.