JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa says he will resign after five years leading the 15-campus system in order to return full time to the practice of medicine.
In an email to system staff Sunday night, Cigarroa said he was leaving to be the head of pediatric surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. A Monday news conference has been scheduled for Cigarroa to make the announcement with Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster.
“I knew the day would come when I would return to transplant surgery,” Cigarroa wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “The time has come for me to return to my lifelong love and passion — saving lives one individual at a time.”
Cigarroa, the system’s first Hispanic leader, had maintained his job as a surgeon while overseeing nine academic campuses and six health science centers.
Among the highlights of his tenure was regents’ recent approval of a new university in South Texas with a medical school and a new medical school at the flagship campus in Austin. But it also has been marked by tensions between the board and University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers. The power struggle has reached the state Capitol, where lawmakers are considering whether to impeach regent Wallace Hall Jr. over attempts to force Powers out.
The planned university in South Texas will be the result of merging the Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg and Brownsville campuses, and creating a new medical school that supporters say is critically needed to meet education and health care needs in the region along the Texas-Mexico border. The university is projected to enroll about 28,000 students, employ 7,000 people and generate $11 million in research expenditures.
Residents have lobbied for years to get a medical school in the region, and plans were already in place to use UT System health facilities in Cameron and Hidalgo counties. University officials and local politicians who pushed the issue believe it will result in more doctors practicing on the border and have a positive impact on overall health in one of the most impoverished and medically underserved parts of the country.
In his dealings with Powers, Cigarroa was publicly critical of the University of Texas at Austin president at the regents’ December meeting. He said Powers had to improve trust and communication when dealing with regents and system staff, though Cigarroa also said he wanted to keep Powers on the job.
Despite the disputes with Powers, who remains popular with students, faculty and influential alumni, Cigarroa has generally maintained the support of the board. One person with direct knowledge of Cigarroa’s decision, who spoke to the AP anonymously before the email was sent, said the chancellor is not being forced out by the board. The person was not authorized to speak publicly before the official announcement and therefore requested anonymity
Cigarroa, 56, is expected to stay on the job until his replacement is found. In his Sunday email, he noted that his father and three of his brothers are all doctors — and that his father, at age 89, still practices medicine.
“It is time to honor what my parents did for me by returning to my father’s and my first love, the practice of medicine,” Cigarroa said.