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Law School Dean to Lead UT

November 5, 2005

By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – William Powers Jr., the dean of the University of Texas law school and the leader of the internal inquiry into the implosion of Enron, is the only finalist to become the next UT president, university officials announced late Friday.

William Powers Jr.

Birth date: May 30, 1946

Family: Married with five children

Education: Bachelor's in chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, 1967; law degree, Harvard Law School, 1973

Career highlights
U.S Navy lieutenant, junior grade, 1967­70
Law clerk to Judge Eugene Wright, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 1973-74
Visiting professor, Southern Methodist University law school, 1982­83
Associate dean for academic affairs, University of Texas at Austin law school, 1984­87
James R. Dougherty Chair for Faculty Excellence, UT law school, 1991­92
Associate dean for academic affairs, UT law school, 1994-95
University distinguished teaching professor, UT law school, 1997­present
Dean, UT law school, 2000-present
Enron report for the Special Investigative Committee, 2002

SOURCE: University of Texas resume

Mr. Powers, 59, is likely to replace Larry Faulkner, who has served since 1998 and announced his intention to step down almost five months ago.

Mr. Powers was hailed by regents and UT officials as a brilliant person of great vision and, more practically, as a proven fundraiser and a charming man who gets along well with state legislators.

"Bill Powers brought a lot of experience, a knowledge of the state of Texas," said Board of Regents chairman James Huffines. "He brings an enthusiasm and, I think, a lot of creativity and a lot of vision of where the university needs to go forward."

Mr. Powers was out for the evening and could not be reached for comment, his daughter said.

Mr. Powers graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude in 1973 and first came to UT as a law professor in 1977.

He was named dean in 2000.

"He seems to be very good at bringing large groups of people together, synthesizing their points of view and producing a work product," said UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof, a former law school dean himself. Mr. Yudof heads the entire university system and would be Mr. Powers' boss.

The 28th UT president will preside over one of the largest campuses in the nation, with 50,000 students, 3,000 faculty members and a $1.6 billion annual budget.

The Board of Regents had promised an extensive national search for candidates but ended up selecting someone who works just a few blocks from the president's office in the famous UT Tower.

"We did conduct a thorough search from coast to coast for the very best, broadest and most diverse pool of candidates that we have ever had for the presidency of a public research university the caliber of UT-Austin," Mr. Huffines said.

He declined to specify how many finalists there had been, but regents met for seven hours of interviews with the best candidates Friday. Mr. Powers emerged as the lone named candidate in a search that had begun with more than 200 administrators and scholars nationwide.

Under state law, university officials must wait 21 days after naming finalists for the top job before making the appointment.

Alba Ortiz, chairwoman of the faculty senate and professor at the College of Education, said Mr. Powers is well-respected by the faculty and the community.

Ms. Ortiz, who has served on several committees with Mr. Powers, said the crossword puzzle buff is "easy to talk to."

"He's frank," she said. "He listens to what you have to say."

Besides Mr. Powers' prowess in raising money for the law school and recruiting top faculty, Mr. Yudof said, his leadership of an independent inquiry into the Enron corporate scandal in 2002 showed his strong moral compass.

"It's very important to have someone of his ironclad integrity," he said.

Mr. Yudof said that Mr. Powers is "a very substantial legal scholar," pointing to 12 pages of papers, speeches, articles and books on product-liability law that Mr. Powers has written.

He noted that Rice and Columbia, two highly regarded private universities, are led by lawyers.

Sheldon Steinbach, vice president and general counsel of the American Council on Education, a Washington, D.C.-based umbrella group for higher education, said that law school administrators are well-respected in academia.

"You want someone who understands the politics in-house. Law deans tend to be very effective presidents if given the chance," he said.

Mr. Powers will spend the next three weeks meeting with students, faculty, staff, administrators and community leaders.

TAKING ENRON TO TASK

When Enron Corp. collapsed, shaking the business and financial worlds, William Powers Jr. was chosen to lead the investigation of what went wrong.

His panel's scathing 2002 report found that some of the company's top financial managers inflated the Houston energy giant's earnings to enrich themselves, and that there was little oversight to stop it.

When the University of Texas law school dean took on the task, he came under some criticism for potential conflicts of interest. Enron was a big donor to the school, as were its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, and its main law firm, Vinson & Elkins LLP.

But Mr. Powers recused himself from the evaluation of Vinson & Elkins, and the hard-hitting report set aside any concerns he might go easy on a UT donor. It found both Andersen and Vinson & Elkins to have been lax in their responsibility for policing Enron.

Once the report was written, Mr. Powers briefly became a celebrity in Washington, testifying before various congressional committees investigating Enron.

Staff writer Jennifer Emily in Dallas contributed to this report.