McRaven noncommittal on remaining UT chancellor after contract ends

June 01, 2017
University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven, right, talks with Evan Smith during a Texas Tribune event on Thursday.

Bill McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas System, refused to say Thursday whether he wants to continue in the job after his three-year contract runs out at the end of the year.

“I want to see the direction that the board is going,” he said. “The fact of the matter is I think there are some things we have to talk about. I’ve got to find out whether or not the board wants me to stay. If they do, that’s a decision point for me. If I’m not adding value to the University of Texas System, then maybe I’m not the right guy for the job.”

The 61-year-old retired admiral, who is paid $1.9 million a year, made the remarks at a Texas Tribune event at the Austin Club. He told the American-Statesman afterward that the UT System Board of Regents hasn’t given him any signal that it wants him out.

Still, there has been a bit of friction lately between some regents and the chancellor, who oversees 14 academic and health campuses. He just came through a challenging legislative session whose low points included a Senate Finance Committee grilling about the system’s $215 million acquisition of more than 300 acres in Houston for a campus of sorts. He later announced that the system would drop the plan and sell off the land.

UT System officials didn’t immediately respond to McRaven’s comments regarding future employment, but privately some seemed taken aback. In March, after McRaven’s scuttling of the Houston plan, regents’ Chairman Paul Foster praised the chancellor.

“Your decisive leadership and your willingness to step forward and assume responsibility are among the many reasons that my fellow regents and I are so proud that you are at the helm of the UT System,” Foster told McRaven in a letter at the time. “We have great confidence in and respect for you and your leadership, and we enthusiastically look forward to working with you on the implementation of your evolving vision for the system.”

Two newly appointed regents — Houston lawyer Janiece Longoria and former state Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler — haven’t been shy about questioning the Houston initiative, the system’s budget and staff size, among other matters. A board retreat is planned for July to discuss the system’s mission, vision and priorities.

At a regents’ meeting in May, Regent Jeffery Hildebrand, who chairs the board’s investment arm, said it was fine to revisit those matters but important to do so in a thoughtful way, inasmuch as the nine-member board previously approved by a unanimous vote McRaven’s “very grand and awe-inspiring vision for the system.” The centerpiece of that vision is a set of initiatives, dubbed “quantum leaps,” that include national security, brain health and student success. The Houston project had been the most prominent of the initiatives.

“If you want to be a great system,” McRaven said Thursday, “then you have to do great things.”

McRaven noted that he has stood up for the news media, for students who were brought illegally into the country as children and, on Thursday, for the Paris climate accord at a time when such views aren’t necessarily in sync with the political climate.

He described himself as a nontraditional university leader, having not risen through the higher education ranks. He took the UT job after 37 years as a Navy SEAL, a career highlighted by his planning of the raid that killed 9/11 terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Although his contract expires at the end of the year, he wouldn’t necessarily need a new one to continue in the job, UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said.

“He’s the first chancellor to have had a contract,” she said. “It’s not required.”

But McRaven told the Statesman that he would expect a contract if he stays on the job. “I need to sit down with the board, and we need to have a discussion,” he said. “That’s really what it amounts to.”