UT regents tap New Yorker to head largest university system in Texas

August 4, 2018 GMT

AUSTIN — University of Texas System regents selected James Milliken, the former chancellor of the City University of New York, as the lone finalist to lead the largest network of universities in the state, with more than 230,000 students.

Early on, there was speculation that the regents were considering corporate executive Rex Tillerson, President Donald Trump’s former Secretary of State and former CEO of ExxonMobil; and Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of Education in President George W. Bush’s administration, but regents instead opted for an experienced education administration with national credentials. The vote for Milliken was without opposition Saturday.

Milliken lead the CUNY system from 2014 to 2018 and previously served as the University of Nebraska president.

His selection comes as the UT Regents are trying to cultivate a strong relationship with the Texas legislature. The system endured a strained relationship with lawmakers who criticized the former chancellor for spending money on initiatives not related to academics, including $215 million to buy land for a campus in Houston without a concrete plan for it.


A lawyer by training, Milliken has worked in higher education for decades. He lead the CUNY system, the largest public urban university system in the country, for four years before resigning in November 2017. Eight months prior to his resignation, Milliken announced he had throat cancer, and he cited “additional health challenges” when he resigned.

He has assured the UT regents that he has “a clean bill of health,” according to Randa Safady, a spokeswoman for the system. Safady said Milliken shared a statement from his doctors with the regents saying that his cancer was “cured as of last summer.” All other medical issues have also been addressed, Safady said.

Milliken’s selection comes nearly three months after Chancellor William McRaven retired in May. McRaven’s tenure at UT was marred by tensions with state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, after the system purchased land to create a new campus in Houston. McRaven said his decision to resign was to focus on his health. McRaven was a formal Navy admiral who is best known for overseeing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

The search for McRaven’s replacement began soon after he announced he would resign in December. It’s been overseen by a committee of five current and former regents.

Milliken will now enter a 21-day wait period where he will negotiate his salary. The UT regents will convene a special meeting to confirm his appointment. That meeting has not been scheduled.