The Pro Bene Meritis award is the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. Since 1984, the annual award has been given to alumni, faculty members and friends of the college who are committed to the liberal arts, have made outstanding contributions in professional or philanthropic pursuits or have participated in service related to the college.
Name: William Charles Powers, Jr., B.A. Chemistry ’67, University of California, Berkeley; J.D. ’73, Harvard University
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Bill Powers made liberal arts and diversity top priorities during his role as the 28th president of The University of Texas at Austin from 2006 to 2015. He was a driving force in the capital campaign for the new Liberal Arts building; the integration of the Liberal Arts perspective into the curriculum of the new Dell Medical School; and the development of the Department of African & African Diaspora Studies, the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis, and the Department of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies.
“The College of Liberal Arts is a custodian for advancing our understanding of our place in the universe.”Bill Powers
What are your proudest accomplishments during your time as president of UT Austin?
I’m most proud of the work done to improve the undergraduate experience coming out of The Commission of 125 and the task force on undergraduate curriculum, which resulted in the establishment of the School of Undergraduate Studies; the Campaign for Texas, which raised an unprecedented $3.12 billion to support people, places and our purpose; and perhaps the most lasting accomplishment of which I am most proud would be helping to create the Dell Medical School.
Why were the liberal arts such an important part of your legacy as president?
I think universities, especially leading universities like UT, do a number of things. We educate people in the professions, conduct research that aids the economy, and teach students to be leaders and critical thinkers. There’s no one thing that we do. But teaching students a broader understanding of the world we live in is an important thing we do that often gets lost. The College of Liberal Arts is a custodian for advancing our understanding of our place in the universe.
What has been your greatest influence?
I can name several episodes that have greatly influenced my life. The first was when I went off to the University of California, Berkeley, where I learned a lot and saw what wonderful institutions public universities can be. After that, I went into the Navy and my eyes were opened to the world. But the biggest influence was being at UT for almost 40 years. I’ve been influenced most by faculty and students who are completely immersed in the learning experience.
Will you continue to teach at UT?
I’ll start teaching again next fall. For now, I’m working on my book about my time as president. It was an interesting period with some turmoil for the university, so I’d like to share it through the lenses of my experiences and offer a new perspective to the value and role of higher education in Texas and in America.
What makes you most proud to be a Longhorn?
I’ll say No. 1 is the people. I think it’s the way that the students throw themselves into it, the outpouring of support and involvement from alumni, and the excellent faculty and staff. There’s something special about UT and being a Longhorn. I didn’t go here, but in many ways it’s my alma mater.
How do you hope to be remembered?
I hope to be remembered as a member of the family. For a period of my life and the university’s life, it was my job to lead this family; but now I’m just proud to be among the many alumni, students and supporters who make up the UT community.