University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven, who is stepping down at the end of May, received two standing ovations Tuesday from the system’s Board of Regents.
“It has been the honor of my lifetime to be your chancellor,” said McRaven, who was given a framed certificate of appreciation for his nearly 3½ years as the chief executive of the 14-campus system. He announced in December that he was stepping down for health reasons and to teach, write and pursue other interests.
Regents’ Chairwoman Sara Martinez Tucker said the board chose to honor McRaven at its meeting in Houston because that was its last in-person session before the end of the month. She noted that $900,000 has been donated to endow a fund bearing his name and that of his wife, Georgeann, for discretionary use by future chancellors.
“Your name will forever be linked with the UT System,” Tucker told McRaven.
Although he had no higher education administration experience, McRaven brought a certain star power and leadership acumen to the chancellorship as a retired admiral and Navy SEAL who directed the mission in which Osama bin Laden was killed. He spoke often of the importance of bold action.
That approach didn’t always work out for him as chancellor, notably when the system spent more than $200 million to acquire about 300 acres in Houston for what would have been a data science center. McRaven dropped that plan amid opposition from some state lawmakers and a few regents.
Under McRaven’s watch, the UT System has submitted a bid to the federal government to operate the Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the nation’s nuclear weapons program. Texas A&M University, the University of California, Purdue University and various companies also are competing for the contract.
In addition, McRaven established a rule requiring that a female or a minority candidate be interviewed for every high-level position at the system’s various university and medical campuses. The requirement is modeled after the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule,” which mandates that a minority head coaching candidate be interviewed before a final hiring decision.
The regents’ meeting included an update from Regent Jeffery Hildebrand, who is leading a panel working to put the ill-fated Houston property on the market. He said the goal is to close on the sale by the start of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 8.
Regent Kevin Eltife, leader of a task force working on recommendations to reorganize the system’s administrative offices, said accounting firm Ernst & Young has been hired to assist in the effort. The contract is for $375,000, payable in installments of $125,000 upon the completion of certain conditions, said UT spokeswoman Karen Adler.
Barry McBee, vice chancellor and chief governmental relations officer, briefed the regents on the upcoming legislative session, citing a shortfall in Medicaid funding and other pressures as factors in a fiscal forecast for higher education akin to “overcast if not exceedingly cloudy.”
Meanwhile, Tucker is leading a committee searching for someone to replace McRaven. Among those floated as possible candidates are Rex Tillerson, former U.S. secretary of state and former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp.; Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina System and former U.S. education secretary; and James Hackett, executive chairman of Alta Mesa Resources Inc., a Houston-based oil company. System officials have been tight-lipped on the search, describing any names mentioned by outside parties as “speculative at best.”