March 10, 2019
Dear UT Community,
It is with deep sadness that I write you today with the news that former UT President Bill Powers has died.
As president from 2006 to 2015, Bill was an eloquent and fierce champion for UT students, faculty and staff. Never was this more evident than in the early and mid-2010s, when Bill put every ounce of himself into defending the soul of our university. He bravely stood up for what was right, and he fought against a view of higher education that would have compromised UT’s constitutional charge to be a “university of the first class,” while setting a dangerous precedent for public research universities across the nation.
Bill Powers was the driving force behind the transformation of UT’s undergraduate curriculum and set us on a path to increase our four-year graduation rate to 70 percent. He launched the Dell Medical School and led UT to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the university prevailed in defending the educational benefits of diversity.
As a professor of law and freshman seminar instructor, Bill was an inspiration to four decades of students who were challenged and made better by him. Bill often said his most important title at the university was Teacher. He never stopped teaching.
Bill and I became friends when he convinced me and Carmel to move halfway across the country so I could serve as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. It was the best decision we ever made, and it was because of Bill and his magnetic energy and friendship. He was steadfast, loyal and kind. He believed in people and took them under his guidance.
Bill meant so much to so many, but none more so than his wife Kim, their children and grandchildren. Carmel, my family and I grieve with Kim and the Powers family, and our university community mourns the loss of one of the great leaders in UT history.
In a speech 10 years ago, Bill quoted Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” In many ways, that sentence defines Bill Powers. He was one of those thoughtful, committed citizens. He changed UT. He changed Texas. He changed the world.
And for 40 years on these Forty Acres, Bill Powers embodied the UT motto, “What starts here changes the world.” He lived those words. But even more importantly, he made sure legions of other Longhorns did too.
We’ll miss him dearly.
Gregory L. Fenves