Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., a nationally renowned leader in higher education and pediatric transplant surgery, announced Monday morning that he will step down as head of The University of Texas System after a five-year tenure marked by groundbreaking accomplishments.
Cigarroa  will serve as chancellor until his successor is named, and afterward will become the head of pediatric transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Cigarroa will also serve as a special liaison to the Board of Regents to advise on the development of the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and medical school, Chairman Paul Foster said.
Before being named the first Hispanic chancellor of the UT System in late 2008, Cigarroa served as president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio from 2000 to 2008.
Cigarroa said at a news conference Monday that it always had been his plan to return to medicine full time, but he did not know the perfect opportunity at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio would unexpectedly present itself in late 2013.
When Cigarroa decided to step down as president of UT Health Science Center at San Antonio in 2008, he intended to resume performing surgeries full time. About the same time, former chancellor Mark Yudof left the System to become president of the University of California System, and the UT System Board of Regents launched a search for a new chancellor.
“When initially approached by regents to consider the chancellorship more than five years ago, I was inclined to say no, but I considered the similarities between health and education,” Cigarroa said. “Like surgery, education saves lives on many levels, and I thought I could bring value to the UT System with that perspective in mind.”
But Cigarroa made it clear to the Board of Regents from the beginning that he would return to medicine at some point and made sure that he would be allowed to take surgical call at least once a month at University Hospital in San Antonio.
“I’m completing a circle. It has been such a wonderful privilege to work with countless and exceptional professionals throughout the UT System. Together we have been able to impact many lives through the creation of new and transformational initiatives,” he said. “Now it’s time to return to saving one life at a time.
“Professionally, my plan was to eventually go back to being a full-time transplant surgeon, and I knew there would be a natural time to do so. That time is now,” he added. “The longer I wait to go back full time, the harder it will be to retool.”
Cigarroa said he’s proud of what he’s accomplished over the last five years with the full partnership of the Board of Regents, the System’s 15 presidents, his executive officers at the UT System and UT students, staff and faculty.
During his tenure, Cigarroa has championed student access and success. In 2011, the Board of Regents unanimously adopted Cigarroa’s Framework for Advancing Excellence, a strategic action plan to advance the UT System’s 15 academic and health institutions. Two years later, 95 percent of the Framework has been fully implemented and the plan has received national acclaim.
Cigarroa was also instrumental in the effort to establish a new university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. The Texas Legislature approved the initiative in 2013, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is scheduled to enroll its first class in the fall of 2015. His leadership was also pivotal in creating the Dell School of Medicine at UT Austin – fulfilling a long-held dream of integrating a medical school with UT’s flagship academic university.
UT System Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster said he was disappointed to receive the news but was pleased to hear Cigarroa is staying within the UT family.
“I do not know any leader who has accomplished so much so quickly or been as effective as Chancellor Cigarroa, navigating a complex university system during a time of significant discussion on higher education nationally,” Foster said.
“I have the highest admiration and respect for Chancellor Cigarroa, and his leadership has had a tremendous and profound impact at all of our institutions,” Foster said. “He is fully committed to the success of our students, staff and faculty. He’s both a visionary and a man of action who gave 100 percent of himself each and every day, tirelessly. I know I speak for all regents when I say we will be forever grateful for his service.”
Because Cigarroa has graciously agreed to stay on until his successor is named, it will give the Board of Regents enough time to find a new, permanent chancellor, Foster said.
“It goes without saying that it will be challenging to find a successor for Chancellor Cigarroa, who has such a high level of understanding of how both academic and health institutions function,” Foster said. “But fortunately, Chancellor Cigarroa will be here to provide us counsel and guidance and will stay engaged as the Regents’ special liaison to see the new university and medical school in the Rio Grande Valley become a reality. And when he does leave for San Antonio, I’ll know where to find him.”
About The University of Texas System
Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System  is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $14.6 billion (FY 2014) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.