Powers was a champion for UT

March 13, 2019 GMT

Bill Powers loved the University of Texas at Austin, and the campus community loved him back because he fought for academic freedom and integrity and championed excellence.

Powers was the 28th UT president, serving from 2006 through 2015. He died Sunday at the Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin due to complications from a fall several months ago and a rare muscular disorder. He was 72.

Powers was a Southern Californian who joined the university in 1977 as a law professor. Powers understood the University of Texas at Austin isn’t just the state’s top-ranked public university, it is a global leader in research and higher education. His accomplishments include a $3 billion capital campaign, creating the Dell Medical School and launching the Engineering Education and Research Center, among other capital projects.

He also focused on improving the university’s graduation rate, a priority that has continued with UT President Greg Fenves.


Powers often found himself at odds with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who wanted to reshape UT into something more like a business, dramatically increasing enrollment and dividing teaching and research budgets. Powers argued, effectively, that a university’s contributions cannot simply be measured in losses and profits. Elite universities drive innovation and expand knowledge and understanding.

Because Powers clashed with Perry and his appointments to the UT Board of Regents, his job was often at risk. One regent, in particular, Wallace Hall, filed voluminous records requests. These requests were controversial because they were so blatantly political. But the inquiry also led to an investigation of admissions practices, finding that over several years, 73 students, some with political connections, had gained acceptance to the university despite objections from admissions officers.

It all came to a head in 2014 when Powers announced his planned resignation. It was a move that put the university before politics.

By any measure, Powers lived a full and successful life. His legacy is secure. The university and this state are better for his public service and commitment to excellence.