JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – University of Texas System regents on Tuesday selected a top U.S. military special operations leaders as the lone finalist for the job of chancellor. The chancellor oversees the system’s 15 campuses and $14 billion budget.
The regents’ choice is Navy Adm. William McRaven, who has been credited with spearheading the operation that led to the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Pakistan in 2011. McRaven is head of the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida,
“Admiral McRaven is a nationally and internationally respected leader and a true American hero,” Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster said after the unanimous vote to approve McRaven.
McRaven, 58, cannot be formally hired for 21 days. He would replace Francisco Cigarroa, who is stepping down after five years. Cigarroa is the first Hispanic to serve as Texas system chancellor.
Contract terms, including McRaven’s salary, were not finalized, Foster said.
With nine academic and six health campuses, the Texas system has more than 215,000 students and about 90,000 employees. The chancellor’s duties include representing the system in legislative matters, advocating higher education causes and raising money.
McRaven, who had previously announced his plans to retire in late August after 37 years in the military, would come to the chancellor’s job with no professional academic experience. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and earned a master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School.
Foster said the regents discussed McRaven’s lack of higher education experience but decided he didn’t need it. Foster said McRaven showed a “passion” for higher education and added that the regents decided “the chancellor’s role was more one of management than academia.”
What the regents will get, once McRaven’s appointment is formalized in a final vote, is a military leader who since 2011 has commanded and overseen a 67,000-person, $10 billion operation and who has experience dealing with Congress and the White House.
McRaven, a four-star admiral, was at the helm when Army Delta forces secured the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban in May as part of an exchange for five Afghan detainees from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The son of an Air Force pilot and grandson of an Army doctor, McRaven grew up in San Antonio.
“I thank the regents for their trust and confidence in my leadership, and I look forward to this extraordinary responsibility with enthusiasm and pride,” McRaven said in a statement released by the board.
Cigarroa announced in February that he would return to his previous career as a pediatric transplant surgeon at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, where he was president for eight years before being named chancellor.
Cigarroa’s tenure was notable for creation of a new medical school at the University of Texas at Austin and for establishment of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley through a merger of the campuses in Brownsville and Edinburg. The new campus will include a medical school. His time as chancellor also was also marked by tension between him and Austin campus president Bill Powers, who also clashed with several regents. Powers recently agreed to step down in June 2015 after Cigarroa warned him that he could be fired.
Cigarroa’s clashes with Powers and turmoil between the regents and lawmakers have created a volatile atmosphere for the new chancellor.
Prominent alumni and donors had rallied behind Powers, who also enjoyed considerable support from the state Legislature, which sets public university budgets.
During a recent hearing before a state House panel, Foster said he considered it “offensive” for lawmakers to try to directly influence personnel decisions such as the hiring and firing of campus presidents.
The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, which includes many of the top donors and alumni who supported Powers and clashed with regents, applauded the selection of McRaven.
“McRaven is a proven leader with a strong backbone and the courage of his convictions who will stand up for what is right in the best interests of the people of Texas,” the coalition said in a statement.