University of Texas

UT regent says he will not resign

An embattled University of Texas regent is standing firm, despite calls for his resignation.

According to his lawyer, UT Regent Wallace Hall sent a letter to Chairman Paul Foster today, in response to Foster’s suggestion that he step down. The contents of the letter haven’t been released, but Hall made his opinions clear in a statement released afterward.

“Which approach benefits the UT System, asking the Board of Regents to address wrongdoing, or asking regents who uncover the wrongdoing to resign? Will the public ever know the truth about problems in our institutions if legislators are allowed to impeach Board members who reveal them?”

Hall is accused of abusing the power of his office while investigating UT President Bill Powers. He’s also the subject of an investigation by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office for his handling of confidential student information. Last week, Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster asked Hall to step down but stopped short of a board vote of confidence, which could force Hall out.

Hall’s response comes two days before a House panel is expected to draw up articles of impeachment, which they could then send to the full House. If lawmakers follow through, Hall would be the first non-elected official to be removed from office in state history.

UT reacts to Supreme Court ruling in Michigan admissions policy case

The University of Texas is reviewing Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold a Michigan ban to use race as a factor in college admissions.

In a 6-2 ruling, the justices said voters had the right to change their state constitution to prohibit public colleges and universities from considering race as part of the admissions process. The decision reverses a lower court ruling.

Meantime, the University of Texas at Austin is awaiting a ruling from a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel over its own admissions policy. The Supreme Court ruled on the Fisher v. University of Texas case last summer and sent it back down to the appeals court to enable a look at UT’s admissions policy under a more narrow set of standards.

Prospective student Abigail Fisher sued the university after being denied admission. Fisher, who is white, claimed she was the victim of racial discrimination because other, non-white students with lower test scores were admitted.

Reacting to Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling regarding the Michigan case, UT President Bill Powers said that based on its preliminary review, the university does not believe it has any effect on UT’s admissions policy or decisions.

Powers added:

“In today’s ruling, the court recognized that the Schuette case from Michigan was not ‘about the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education.’ The court also reaffirmed that in the case of Fisher versus the University of Texas, the court ‘did not disturb the principle that the consideration of race in admissions is permissible, provided that certain conditions are met.’ UT Austin’s admissions policy meets those conditions and we are awaiting a ruling from a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel. UT Austin uses race as one of many factors in our holistic review of applicants. Assembling a diverse student body is vital to the education of all students on campus and helps train the future leaders of our state and nation who will increasingly work in a diverse and global society.”

Report on UT regent referred to district attorney’s office

The legislative committee investigating UT Regent Wallace Hall has referred a draft report to Travis County officials for possible criminal prosecution. The report, released last week by special counsel hired to investigate Hall, accuses the regent of “gotcha! governance,” “bullying” and “tarnishing of the reputation of UT Austin.”

The Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations was originally convened to look into Hall’s request for massive amounts of documents from the University of Texas, part of what Rep. Jim Pitts referred to as a “witch-hunt” against UT President Bill Powers. But the draft report went much further, pointing out Hall’s actions during the investigation itself as possible grounds for impeachment. Among other things, the report accuses Hall of attempting to coerce witnesses and the disclosure of confidential student information.

Now, investigators are categorizing their findings as possible criminal violations. In a letter to the full committee, co-chairs Carol Alvarado and Dan Flynn said:

“As Co-Chairs, we believe that the Committee has a responsibility to do all it can to safeguard the credibility of its inquiry, the integrity of our state’s institutions of higher education, and the privacy rights of students at the University of Texas. The report notes that Regent Hall’s conduct with respect to protected student information is serious enough to implicate two possible offenses in the Penal Code. In addition, Regent Hall’s conduct may constitute a criminal offense under the Texas Public Information Act.”

Today, the House Sergeant at Arms sent the full draft report to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and County Attorney David Escamilla, along with the letter outlining those same charges.

The joint committee has not officially adopted the report. If they do, they could still refer their investigation to the Texas House for impeachment proceedings. If the House passes articles of impeachment, the Senate would then conduct a trial.

Capital Tonight: What’s next for UT system after Chancellor Cigarroa?

The University of Texas System will soon enter a new era. UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa formally announced that he will be stepping down from his position to return to medicine.

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we heard from lawmakers who believe the move was possibly related to an unsuccessful push to remove UT Austin President Bill Powers. Plus, we looked at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’ claim that Attorney General Greg Abbott didn’t do enough to fix the inadequate education funding during the last legislative session.


Agriculture Commissioner candidate Kinky Friedman joined us to explain how he believes hemp can replace cotton and why marijuana should be legal in Texas.


Harvey Kronberg joined us to comment on the day’s political news, plus a quote from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who says Texas could change into a blue state unless the GOP evolves.

Cigarroa steps down as UT System chancellor, says fight over Powers unrelated

The head of the University of Texas System formally announced he would end his five-year tenure to return to transplant surgery.

In a press conference Monday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said he had accomplished everything he’d set out to do as chancellor, and that it always had been his intention to return to medicine full-time. Cigarroa has accepted a job as head of pediatric transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Cigarroa touted his accomplishments as chancellor, including the establishment of two new medical schools: the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the Dell School of Medicine at UT Austin. He also cited his Framework for Advancing Excellence, which the UT Board of Regents adopted in 2011. The plan called for increased engineering education, expanded online learning and the Horizon Fund, which provides seed money for the commercialization of UT research.

The chancellor’s departure comes during a tumultuous time for the Board of Regents, UT Austin President Bill Powers and the Texas Legislature. In December, Cigarroa announced Powers would stay on as president, but cited strained tensions with the board. Meanwhile, a joint committee of lawmakers is investigating UT Regent Wallace Hall, who has been accused of a “witch hunt” against Powers. Cigarroa said the controversy surrounding the UT Austin president had nothing to do with his decision.

“I evaluate all presidents as I’ve always done, based on facts and performance,” Cigarroa said. “I support President Powers, and I will continue to evaluate presidents every day — not only President Powers but all 15.”

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who has been supportive of Powers, says she believes the decision has more to do with the fight over leadership than Cigarroa would admit.

“Although I am confident that he will deny any disharmony, I am equally confident that his decision was influenced by the continued negative circumstances at hand. His action personifies the harmful repercussions of the current attack on those who pursue excellence, protect the privacy of students and strive for true transparency for all,” Zaffirini said in a statement.

Cigarroa said he will remain as chancellor until his replacement is found, a process UT Board of Regents Chair Paul Foster says will likely to take 4-6 months. He will also continue to serve the board as an adviser for the UT Rio Grande Valley medical school.


Capital Tonight: College costs debated at federal, state level

UT Austin President Bill Powers joined more than a hundred college leaders in Washington Thursday to find ways to make higher education more accessible.

In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we heard President Barack Obama’s motivation for convening the summit, plus former University of Texas at Austin President Larry Faulkner talked about efforts to curb rising tuition costs.


The lieutenant governor’s race is almost a three-way tie — at least when it comes to fundraising. Democratic strategist Harold Cook and Republican strategist Rob Johnson joined us to talk about who is ahead and who should start worrying.


Will the state’s economic incentive funds survive after Gov. Rick Perry leaves office? Austin Business Journal Editor Colin Pope joined us to consider that question in light of one fund’s mixed success rate.

Capital Tonight: Clash over UT regent remains unresolved

UT Regent Wallace Hall will have to wait a little longer to learn his fate.

The committee investigating whether Hall should be impeached went forward with another day of testimony Wednesday. Hall himself was scheduled to testify, but declined the day before. Instead, the committee heard from UT President Bill Powers and University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa about Hall, who has been accused of misusing his office in an attempt to oust Powers.

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard more from Powers, who told the committee Hall’s actions have hurt morale at the university.


The new issue of Texas Monthly has hit newsstands, and with it, the winners of this year’s “Bum Steer Awards.” The magazine’s editor in chief, Jake Silverstein, joined us to talk about which political figures made the list and why.


All this week, we’ve been reporting on the recent boom in unlocking oil and natural gas resources in Texas. It’s generated nearly 300,000 new jobs, and added at least $4.5 billion dollars to the state’s coffers. But it also comes at a cost.

Capital Tonight’s John Salazar brought us a look at how the corresponding rise in traffic fatalities is more than just a statistic.

Capital Tonight: Powers stays put after UT regents’ meeting

UT Austin President Bill Powers will stay put.

That was the word from the UT System Board of Regents Thursday, after more than four hours in a closed-door discussion about his employment. University of Texas system Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa cited strained relations between Powers and and some board members, but said it’s in the best interest of the system to keep Powers as president of the flagship university.

In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we heard reaction from President Powers after the board adjourned, and we looked at how the decision relates to the legislature and the governor.


Now that the filing deadline has come and gone, we spoke to Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri and Democratic strategist Harold Cook about their respective parties’ tickets from top to bottom.


The organization that represents our state’s hospitals is trying to make a point during the holidays. They’re reminding Texans that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the supposed uptick in depression-related issues this time of year is a myth. But they stress the challenges facing Texas’ behavioral health care system are very real.

Abbott disavows former staffer’s ‘Catch an Illegal Immigrant’ event

Attorney General Greg Abbott is forcefully distancing himself from the actions of a former staff member, who announced plans to hold a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game” on the University of Texas campus.

In a statement released today, Abbott called the tactic “repugnant” and compared it to protests over abortion law during the first special session.

“Our campaign has no affiliation with this repugnant effort.  Illegal immigration and the failed policies of the Obama Administration are not a joking matter.

“Conservatives should not stoop to the level of liberals, whose shenanigans at the Texas Capitol this summer, including chants of ‘hail Satan’ during Senator Davis’ filibuster to allow abortions after five months, did nothing but sidetrack the Texas Legislature.”

The stunt was announced by Young Conservatives of Texas Chairman Lorenzo Garcia. In an event planned for Wednesday, students would “catch” anyone wearing a clothing with the words “illegal immigrant” attached to it in exchange for a $25 gift card.

The group described it as an effort to spur “campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration.”

UT denounces ‘Catch an Illegal Immigrant’ game

The University of Texas is joining critics of a planned ‘Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game planned for Wednesday. The event, organized by the Young Conservatives of Texas, involves people walking on campus wearing signs that say “illegal immigrant.” Students who “catch” them win a $25 gift card.

The University has been critical of other YCT events, including an affirmative action bake sale held last month. In a statement today, UT called the tactics “inflammatory and demeaning.”

“Once again in trying to be provocative, the YCT is contributing to an environment of exclusion and disrespect among our students, faculty and staff by sending the message that certain students do not belong on our campus…”

“If the members of YCT carry out their plan for “Catch an Illegal Immigrant,” they are willfully ignoring the honor code and contributing to the degradation of our campus culture. And once again, they will have resorted to exercising one of the university’s core values to the detriment of others. Such actions are counterproductive to true dialogue on our campus, and it is unrepresentative of the ideals toward which our community strives.”

UT Austin President Bill Powers also responded to the planned event. In a statement posted on the university’s web site, he said:

“The proposed YCT event is completely out of line with the values we espouse at The University of Texas at Austin. Our students, faculty and the entire university work hard both to promote diversity and engage in a respectful exchange of ideas. The Wednesday event does not reflect that approach or commitment.

As Americans, we should always visualize our Statue of Liberty and remember that our country was built on the strength of immigration. Our nation continues to grapple with difficult questions surrounding immigration. I ask YCT to be part of that discussion but to find more productive and respectful ways to do so that do not demean their fellow students.”

The university Staff Council voted unanimously to endorse the statement shortly after it was released.