In addition to being chancellor of the University of Texas System, Francisco Cigarroa also happens to be a transplant surgeon.
And he seemed to be in bedside-manner mode — relaxed, smiling and confident — as he sought to assure about 200 of his employees on Thursday that the system would weather a difficult legislative session.
“I have a high degree of confidence” that things will work out, Cigarroa said as he addressed the employees from the stage of the State Theater in downtown Austin, a venue chosen because it is larger than any room at the system’s office complex a few blocks away.
The employees have reason for concern.
Four amendments adopted as part of the Texas House version of the proposed state budget would sharply restrict the system’s funding and authority. One of those amendments would bar spending higher education endowment proceeds on system administration. That would eliminate $41.4 million in funding, putting about a third of the system’s 622 employees out of work.
Cigarroa said he came away from discussions with legislative leaders hopeful that they will “mitigate or perhaps eliminate” the amendments.
Those discussions occurred shortly after the UT System Board of Regents voted unanimously last week to cancel plans for an external review of faculty compensation and other issues involving the UT-Austin School of Law and a donor group, the UT Law School Foundation. The regents instead agreed to ask state Attorney General Greg Abbott to conduct the review, as recommended by lawmakers.
“UT System administration will be open for business on September the 1st, which is the next fiscal year,” Cigarroa pledged.
Cigarroa also said he hopes to revive a $102.4 million plan to build a new downtown headquarters for the system’s staff. Officials put the plan on the back burner in December after getting “a lot of pushback” from some lawmakers, he said.
Consolidating the system’s five-building complex into a new, 15-story building at the northwest corner of West Seventh and Colorado streets would save $2 million to $5 million annually in maintenance, security and other costs, according to the system’s projections. Cigarroa said the system needs to do a better job of educating “constituents,” including legislators, “to better present the compelling case.”
The chancellor, who oversees 15 academic and health campuses, has been spending much of his time lately as a kind of roving diplomat trying to resolve tensions involving the regents, lawmakers and the Austin campus. He nonetheless made time to participate in three transplant operations last weekend at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.