• July 24, 2014

U. of Texas Chancellor’s Passion for Medicine Couldn’t Heal Divided System

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Preston Broadfoot, U. of Texas System

After five tumultuous years, Francisco G. Cigarroa will return to his roots in surgery, a move that was called "a serious loss" to higher education in the state.

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Preston Broadfoot, U. of Texas System

After five tumultuous years, Francisco G. Cigarroa will return to his roots in surgery, a move that was called "a serious loss" to higher education in the state.

The chancellor of the University of Texas system, Francisco G. Cigarroa, announced on Monday that he would step down after five tumultuous years in which he did his best to broker agreements between the system and its flagship campus, in order to return full time to his lifelong passion, pediatric transplant surgery.

Dr. Cigarroa, a nationally renowned surgeon, will become head of pediatric transplant surgery at the university’s Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he was president for eight years before becoming chancellor.

He conceded that the past five years, in which he often found himself caught between a bitterly divided Board of Regents and a popular flagship president, had been "challenging."

But he said he was stepping down as soon as his successor was appointed because, "in large part, I’ve completed all the goals I set out in 2009 at a retreat with our 15 campuses."

Among them, the system has created two medical schools—one in Austin and another in South Texas—and it has helped several of its campuses move closer to becoming top-tier research institutions.

In 2011 the system approved an interactive online productivity "dashboard" as part of a broader "framework for excellence" for the system.

His decision to resign, he said, was unrelated to tensions between system officials and William C. Powers Jr., president of the university’s flagship campus, in Austin. Some board members had pressed the chancellor to fire Mr. Powers, but instead, in December, he delivered a stern lecture calling on the president to communicate better with system officials.

‘Rogue Regents’

Much of the controversy has centered on a board member’s voluminous open-records requests and an inquiry into whether that regent, Wallace L. Hall Jr., should be impeached for abusing his position.

One of the chancellor’s staunchest supporters, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a longtime chair of the State Senate’s Higher Education Committee and member of a legislative oversight committee, released a statement on Monday saying she was "distressed" that Dr. Cigarroa, the system’s first Hispanic chancellor, was leaving at a time when his leadership was needed.

Senator Zaffirini said the chancellor saw conflicts as opportunities to build consensus and would probably spin his announcement that way.

"Undeniably, however, he has endured unmitigated stress from the rogue regents who want UT President Bill Powers fired," she said. "Those who were unhappy with his recommendation to continue the heavily supported employment of President Powers reportedly turned their powerful weapons on him."

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group of former regents, top-level administrators, and alumni of the university, called the chancellor’s resignation "a serious loss" to higher education in Texas. It thanked him for his service "under increasingly challenging and divisive circumstances."

The board’s chairman, Paul L. Foster, said Dr. Cigarroa had "led with dignity, integrity, and honor, and found common ground where others couldn’t." Mr. Powers praised him as "a leader in the national discussion about improving higher education."

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