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Fenves Named Next President of UT Austin

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune
University of Texas President Bill Powers speaks to Provost Gregory Fenves during a board of regents meeting on July 10, 2014.

From the TexasTribune: After more than three weeks as the sole finalist for the job, Gregory Fenves has been named the next president of the University of Texas at Austin. 

And this time, the current executive vice president and provost has been elevated without any dissent. The vote to hire him was 8-0 by the UT System Board of Regents. Regent Wallace Hall abstained from voting.

That means two regents, Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich, changed their minds from the 6-3 vote on March 26 that named Fenves sole finalist. Hall was also a “no” vote on that day.

Fenves said in a statement after Monday morning’s vote that he was “deeply honored” to receive the job.

“There are tremendous opportunities for our great university, and I will work hard every day to realize our state’s constitutional goal of a ‘university of first class,’” he said.

Fenves will take over on June 3 following the June 2 departure of current president Bill Powers. His pay has not been finalized, university officials said, but it’s expected to be $750,000, plus some deferred compensation and other benefits.

“This is a new chapter in UT Austin’s proud history and we are excited to have a scholar and leader of Dr. Fenves’ caliber who is primed and ready to lead the university’s quest to be the finest public research institution in the world,” said Paul Foster, chairman of the board. “We welcome him as our new president and look forward to accomplishing great things together.”

Fenves has been provost – essentially second-in-command to Powers – since 2013. Prior to that he was dean of engineering at the school for about five years. In that role, he recruited more than 50 faculty members and led a capital campaign that raised $356 million for the school. 

Prior to joining UT-Austin, he led the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Fenves will take the helm in Austin after years of turmoil at the UT System’s flagship campus. Powers has been popular among faculty and students in Austin, but has clashed with certain members of the Board of Regents. Powers has served for about nine years, and his disagreements with some members of the system’s leadership have left his job in a tenuous position in the latter part of his tenure. Powers announced his resignation in July.

Fenves was one of several candidates being considered to replace Powers. Oxford Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton was once considered a front-runner, but he withdrew from the process after being named president of the New York University.

Fenves said on Monday that he hopes to “move forward in a positive way.”

“I think we need to agree on a common purpose and a vision for the university on what the goals are and I want to achieve those goals,” he said.

Most of Monday’s meeting took place in executive session, meaning the discussion was closed to the public. During the public portion, few of the regents spoke, aside from casting their votes.

But two of the three regents who voted against Fenves in March gave short statements. Cranberg said he voted against Fenves at that time because he had concerns about whether Fenves wanted to grow undergraduate enrollment at UT-Austin, something Cranberg has supported. But Cranberg said he spoke with Fenves about the subject for several hours and now feels comfortable that Fenves will embrace growth plans if that’s the policy the board pursues.

Meanwhile, Hall said his abstention shouldn’t be viewed as a sign of disapproval of Fenves as a person or leader. Rather, Hall expressed a “strong and unambiguous desire” to hire a leader from outside the university. And he said he didn’t want to vote for Fenves due to lingering concerns about admissions at the university.

Hall was referring to concerns he has raised about some students receiving preferential treatment in admissions after lawmakers and other state leaders recommended them. An outside consultant found earlier this year that Powers overruled the UT-Austin admissions office in a small number of cases.

Fenves said he appreciated the board’s 8-0 vote.

“I think we have a great working relationship and I told each of them that no matter how they feel about the vote, I look forward to working with them,” he said.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Paul Foster is a major donor to The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. KUT is a department within the University of Texas at Austin.

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