With all the in-fighting that has surrounded the top leadership in the University of Texas System the past few years, it seems appropriate that regents has selected a military man to be the next chancellor of the 15-campus institution.
The board Tuesday named Navy four-star Admiral William McRaven to replace retiring Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who is leaving to head the pediatric transplant team at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
While there were several major accomplishments for the system under Cigarroa’s leadership, his tenure was marred some by the tension between him and Bill Powers, president of UT’s flagship campus in Austin. That strained relationship, along with Powers’ conflicts with some regents and undue meddling by the governor, has produced unnecessary distractions for one of the nation’s largest university systems.
The regents took a non-traditional path in choosing a non-academic candidate like McRaven as the next chancellor, and at the same time made a powerful statement by not considering Gov. Rick Perry’s initial recommendation of Kyle Janek, state Health and Human Services executive commissioner.
Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster, calling McRaven “a nationally and internationally respected leader and a true American hero,” said the regents considered “the chancellor’s role was more one of management than academia.”
McRaven, who has spent 37 years in the military, clearly has leadership experience. For the past three years, the 1977 UT-Austin grad and former Navy SEAL has been head of U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., a 67,000 person, $10 billion operation.
He helped plan and spearheaded the operation that resulted in finding and killing Osama bin Laden, and was also in charge when Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban.
As to whether McRaven can take his military experience and translate that to being a great leader of the UT System, while navigating the waters of state and university politics, consider the words of Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and president of Texas A&M University.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Gates noted that McRaven has been a successful leader of a large institution, and if he “can handle Pentagon politics, he can handle UT politics.”