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Cigarroa officially handed keys to UT System
January 10, 2009

By Melissa Ludwig - Express-News

University of Texas System regents officially named Francisco Cigarroa, a transplant surgeon from Laredo, as chancellor Friday, making him the first Hispanic in the nation to lead a large public university system.

Cigarroa, who begins his new job Feb. 2, is president of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Regents will appoint an interim president for the medical school within a week, and a search committee already has been formed to find Cigarroa's successor.

Regents named Cigarroa as sole finalist for the job last month, but by law had to wait 21 days before making an official appointment.

“He is, without doubt, the person most qualified and well suited to lead our 15 institutions to greater national and international prominence,” said Scott Caven, chairman of the board of regents. “We believe that the UT System and the people of Texas are fortunate to have him in this important position.”

Cigarroa and his wife, Graciela, plan to move into the Bauer House, the official home of the UT chancellor, in Austin's Tarrytown neighborhood.

Though regents are negotiating Cigarroa's salary, Caven said he'd take a pay cut to move to the system's top job. Former chancellor Mark Yudof was paid $775,000 a year, and Cigarroa makes $942,615 as president of the health science center.

Matt Flores, a spokesman for the system, said it's common for medical school presidents to make more than the chancellor because they still practice medicine. Cigarroa, for instance, earns about $164,000 a year performing kidney and liver transplants.

Cigarroa said he plans to keep his medical license active, which entails practicing medicine. But his main focus will be on the job at hand.

“I need to basically learn my landscape first,” Cigarroa said. “There is a tremendous amount of work that has to be done in the near future.”

Cigarroa outlined several priorities for the next Legislature, which convenes Tuesday.

They include lobbying for more money for higher education, convincing lawmakers not to meddle with regents' power to set tuition, and changing the so-called Top 10 percent law, which has flooded UT-Austin with freshmen who are guaranteed a spot, effectively removing the school's control over admissions.

Cigarroa also supports the need for another national research university in Texas to join the ranks of UT Austin and Texas A&M University, but said extra money in this session is unlikely.

Several regional universities — the University of Texas at San Antonio among them — aspire to premier research status.
“The chances of that in this session are very small,” Cigarroa said. “I am glad that this is on the radar screen. It is my firm belief that over the next 10 to 20 years, we will have more (national research universities).”

On the medical side, Cigarroa must revive the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, which was battered by Hurricane Ike, prompting regents to lay off more than 3,000 workers.

He's also focused on tackling the shortage of doctors in Texas by increasing the number of medical residency slots. There also has been talk of building a new medical school in Austin, but Cigarroa declined to comment on the likelihood of that happening.
In 2004, Texas had about 5,900 slots compared to 9,500 in California and 14,000 in New York, according to Code Red, a 2006 report by the Task Force on Access to Health Care in Texas.

About 45 percent of graduates of Texas medical schools go out of state for their residency. If more slots were available, more doctors likely would stay in Texas, the report said.

Beyond politics and policy, Cigarroa said it's his job to inspire young Texans to get an education. Being the first Hispanic chancellor gives him an even greater duty to serve as a role model.

“I believe education is the equalizer of all mankind,” Cigarroa said. “The fact that I am blessed by being Hispanic ... carries an important responsibility for being a mentor and role model.”

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