Venomous language in UT president kerfuffle seems to come from the Powers side


By William Murchison | Special to

By mid-Monday afternoon, “I Support Bill Powers” – an “i-petition” attacking the “politically motivated campaign to attack and discredit our President, Bill Powers,” had acquired more than 10,000 signatures.

ODD: There isn’t anything like a public debate about University of Texas President Bill Powers going forward. There’s rancor and division — nearly all of it coming from the side that professes to despise rancor and division, the Powers side.

There was nothing to it. You could sign with Facebook. You could sign with Twitter.

You could add a message, as many did.

“The (University of Texas) Chancellor and many of the regents are an embarrassment to Texas,” wrote one signatory.

Said another: “Chancellor and many of the Regents are the ones that should leave. They are an embarrassment to Texas.”

And yet another: “It is time to take the right wing politics out of our great university” – “the tea part (sic) and right wing GOP.” Ah, sweet reason!

They don’t mention that their hero is about to get canned, it appears, for admitting unqualified students as political favors.

There’s nothing like the threat of a presidential sacking to coax from the adversely aroused various pronouncements that a University of Texas philosophy class, say, could dismantle at leisure.

There’s a “politically motivated campaign” against Powers? What’s that mean? What politicians are behind it? Are you saying you know they are, or just that they’re such rats they must be?

Here’s a nice sally: “Regent Hall and his allies are inept cronies who have no business meddling in our state’s higher education affairs.”

Well, hmmm. There must be some mistake in the state Constitution, which seems to suggest that the Board of Regents’ job is precisely to oversee “higher education affairs.”

There’s no special harm in bad political rhetoric, whose protection is part of our rich political inheritance. And yet it’s sad to see so many of the players on the presidential side of the debate slather themselves with mud, a substance they playfully heave at those on the other side. You might think you were in a courtroom, where insult and abuse are the coin of the realm.

The more angry and indignant among the petition signers seem to think some organized debate about UT and its president is going forth, and that their champion is, unfairly, of course, getting the worst of it. It would be an odd thing to think. There isn’t anything like a public debate about Bill Powers going forward. There’s rancor and division — nearly all of it coming from the side that professes to despise rancor and division, the Powers side.

What we’ve been witnessing for months is a legislatively directed inquisition — conducted behind closed doors, mainly — into the investigatory style of a single regent, Wallace Hall, who has not, to my knowledge, doled out to Powers or his administration a public word of reproach: for example, “embarrassment.” I would judge Hall to be the gentleman in this ugly affair. It is a shame others have not stepped up to imitate him.

All the venomous language, this is to say, seems to come from the opposite side of the table — the Powers side. The “neurotic politics of a childish regent and an unprofessional chairman” — there’s the anti-Hall, “Save Bill Powers” side at work, using the awesome power of logic, as learned presumably in some university context.

Save Bill Powers to what end? To make higher education safe for people whose style of argument is of the “Shut up, you bum” school. Where’s the debate? Where might it have been, say, six months ago had the Powers side of the case undertaken to lay out its reasoning for public consumption, showing their superiority to the reasoning of others?

The UT establishment, in behalf of, um, civilized discourse, plays rough and emphatically. There are reports of student demonstrations planned the day of the Regents meeting to consider how to handle this firecracker. The Faculty Council meets Wednesday afternoon. Should all be fun — depending on your definition of “fun,” and of “civilization,” naturally.

William Murchison is an author, syndicated columnist, and former associate editor of The Dallas Morning News.