University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers has been elected as chair of the Association of American Universities, adding to his role as a national leader in addressing the key challenges facing higher education.
The AAU is a nonprofit association of leading North American public and private research universities. Its membership includes 60 U.S. and two Canadian universities. Powers has served as vice chair for the past year and was elected Tuesday to become chair by the presidents of the AAU member schools. His tenure began upon his election, and he will serve for one year.
"Bill Powers is already a national spokesman for our great research universities, particularly our public flagship universities," said AAU President Hunter Rawlings. "He has been explaining to his state and the country the vital role these extraordinary institutions play in solving the nation's most serious problems. As AAU chair, he will be a leading advocate for the nation's investments in research and higher education, and in explaining the value of America's research universities."
Under Powers' leadership since 2006, UT Austin has been on the cutting edge of the most pressing issues facing American higher education and has undertaken several ground-breaking initiatives:
- Graduation rates/cost savings: The university has launched efforts to increase its four-year graduation rates to 70 percent, allowing students to spend less on tuition and enter the workforce or graduate school more quickly.
- World-changing research: Since 2011, UT Austin has secured federal funding to develop a nanosystems engineering research center and build Stampede, one of the world's most powerful supercomputers that is open to scientists from across the country.
- Online learning: Powers this year issued the first-ever set of guiding principles for using online technology to help students learn more effectively at major research universities.
- Promoting efficiency: A presidential-appointed committee identified $490 million in costs savings and new revenue that can be used to support teaching, student success and research in an era of decreased public funding.
- Student success: The university established a School of Undergraduate Studies that more effectively allows freshmen who are undecided in their majors to transition into college and achieve academic success.
- Medical school: UT Austin is preparing to open the first new medical school at a major university in 35 years.
"It's a great honor and opportunity to lead the AAU at a time when higher education is confronting tremendous transformation in everything from funding to technology," Powers said. "AAU schools are working to embrace changes while always remaining true to their core values of providing a world-class education and cultivating world-class research."
A native of Los Angeles, Powers, 67, earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and a law degree from Harvard University. He joined the UT Austin faculty in 1977 and served as law school dean from 2000 to 2006.
"I am very pleased that President Powers will serve as chairman of the AAU, an organization that represents our nation's most distinguished research universities," said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., chancellor of the University of Texas System, which includes nine universities and six health institutions. "It is fitting for the president of UT Austin, one of the world's great research-intensive universities, to be at the helm of AAU."
Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, was elected to serve as vice chair of AAU for the next year.
Founded in 1900, AAU focuses on national and institutional issues that are important to research-intensive universities, including funding for research, research and education policy, and graduate and undergraduate education.