University of Texas

Capital Tonight: Lawmaker weighs in on regent investigation, voter ID

The investigation of a University of Texas regent continued Wednesday, with damaging testimony from a former UT system employee. Just down the road, another high-profile hearing wrapped up after final arguments regarding a controversial new abortion law.

LAWMAKER RESPONDS

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer is part of the eight-member panel looking into UT Regent Wallace Hall. He joined us for a one-on-one interview about the committee’s fact-finding mission, voter ID law and recent controversy over his legal name.

AGGIES IN ISRAEL

Gov. Rick Perry continued his visit to Israel Wednesday, joining President Shimon Peres for a signing ceremony to formalize plans to bring a Texas A&M campus to the Middle East. Perry and the university announced plans for a Nazareth branch earlier this week. Click the logo below to watch Wednesday night’s full episode.

Coach controversy ‘fair game’ in regent hearing

A state representative says last month’s controversy over a phone call to Alabama coach Nick Saban’s agent is “fair game” in the investigation of a UT regent.

Speaking to Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said if University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall did set up contact with Saban’s agent while representing himself as a regent, it could become part of the hearing process.

“This inquiry is about Wallace Hall, whether it be his acts or his omissions, things he should have done and things he should not have done,” Rep. Martinez Fischer said. “And quite frankly, I believe it’s fair game and I intend to ask questions on it.”

Hall has admitted to taking part in a phone call between former regent Tom Hicks and Jimmy Sexton, who represents Saban, about whether the Alabama coach might replace UT’s Mack Brown if he retires. Hall told the Associated Press he simply made the introduction between the two, then withdrew from the process. 

Rep. Martinez Fischer is part of an eight-member panel looking into Hall’s conduct as a regent. Hall is accused of using his office to oust UT President Bill Powers and of misrepresenting himself in his application for the regent position. Hall’s lawyers contend their client is being targeted for doing his job.

 

 

Capital Tonight: High-profile hearings reflect larger political battles

A Texas House panel has begun hearing witness testimony in an investigation that could lead to the first impeachment of a non-elected official in state history. The transparency committee is investigating University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall, following accusations from lawmakers that he overstepped the authority of his office in an effort to oust UT Austin President Bill Powers.

Meanwhile, a hearing of a different sort continued in federal court. Women’s health groups are suing the state to stop the enforcement of some provisions of a new, stricter abortion law.

POLITICAL SUBTEXT

Both cases tie into longstanding political battles — whether it’s abortion, the upcoming governor’s race or the power struggle over UT Austin’s leadership. Our Capital Commentators, Harold Cook and Ted Delisi, joined us to talk about the larger implications.

 

WASHINGTON UPDATE

New unemployment numbers are out from the Labor Department, and while they show slight improvement, many economists worry they’re a sign of a sluggish economy. Plus, our Washington bureau checks in on impending cuts to food stamp programs.

Capital Tonight: UT President addresses higher education challenges

Higher education was a major issue for lawmakers this past session, particularly for those who felt University of Texas President Bill Powers was being micromanaged by the UT Board of Regents.

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke one-on-one with Powers himself. He talked about his goals for UT’s flagship campus, his hopes for the next legislative session and about working with the regents.

WATER FUNDING FIGHT

As one of the worst droughts in state history drags on, the state’s agriculture commissioner is urging Texans to take water conservation into their own hands. That means monitoring their water use and taking a serious look at Proposition 6. Commissioner Todd Staples, who is also running for lieutenant governor, admits neither will immediately solve the state’s water woes, but says it’s a good place to start.

CONTINUING QUESTION

The Senate is set to vote this week on a continuing resolution that would avoid a government shutdown on October 1. At issue is an attempt by some Republicans — led by Sen. Ted Cruz — to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Capital Tonight: One-on-one with UT Regent Wallace Hall

He’s been the subject of controversy since 2011, and now he’s at risk of being the first governor-appointed official to be impeached in state history.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke one-on-one with UT Regent Wallace Hall. Click the logo below to watch an extended interview with Hall about UT President Bill Powers, the accusations against him and the future of higher education.

EVOLVING CONVERSATION

The State Board of Education was back in the spotlight Tuesday, and back on the issue of science curriculum and how evolution will be taught in public schools. It’s a heated topic that dates back to 2009 when the board approved new science curriculum standards, but due to legislative changes, some say the stigma that surrounds the board is changing.

CAPITAL COMMENTATORS

Plus, a comment from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is drawing flack from a fellow lawmaker. Our Capital Commentators weighed in on that development and more.

Regent Hall responds with accusations of ‘secret favoritism’ at UT

A University of Texas regent who has come under fire from the Texas legislature is responding, via his legal counsel, with accusations of “secret favoritism” and “systemic inflation” of donations at UT.

The accusations came out in a letter sent from UT Regent Wallace Hall’s lawyers to the co-chairs of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations. The committee was formed after Hall requested thousands of pages of documents from the University of Texas. Rep. Jim Pitts has called the request a “witch hunt” and an attempt to bring down UT president Bill Powers. Pitts has also filed a resolution to impeach Regent Hall over what he calls “misrepresentation of material facts” in Hall’s application.

In the letter, Hall’s lawyers dispute Pitts’ claims and defend the information requests, saying they hope to tell the whole story during impeachment proceedings. The letter also accuses UT leadership of the following:

  • Secret favoritism in compensation for male faculty through the UT Law School Foundation
  • Favoritism in admissions on behalf of Texas legislators
  • Systemic inflation and misreporting of donations to the university
  • An overall lack of transparency

Hall is asking to be able to treat any impeachment proceedings like a court trial. He’s asking to be represented by legal counsel, for the ability to call and question witnesses and to subpoena witnesses and request documents.

Hearings set to consider Wallace Hall Jr. impeachment

Impeachment hearings for University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall Jr. will begin at the State Capitol. The House Transparency Committee today voted to move forward with proceedings to determine if Hall abused his authority.

The resolution, filed by Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, alleges Regent Hall broke state law by not revealing potential business conflicts when applying for the UT Board position. The same measure also says the regent is abusing his authority by making unnecessary open records requests, targeting UT President Bill Powers. 

The hearings could begin as early as late August or early September. A witness list will include the UT Chancellor, Hall and President Bill Powers among others. A special prosecutor will be appointed by the committee as well as an investigator. There have only been two successful impeachments in Texas history.

 

Pitts files resolution to impeach UT regent

The head of the House Appropriations Committee has taken the first formal step to impeach University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall.

Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) filed a resolution today, directing the House speaker to initiate impeachment proceedings. The resolution accuses Hall of misrepresenting his “experience and qualifications” in order to get the job. In an interview with Capital Tonight, Rep. Pitts said Hall failed to inform legislators of potential business conflicts when he applied for the regent position, an offense that could potentially violate state criminal code relating to falsified government documents.

If lawmakers approve the resolution, the next step is for House Speaker Joe Straus to convene an impeachment committee, which would operate during the interim.

Pitts has accused Hall of engaging in a “witch hunt” against UT Austin president Bill Powers. Hall has requested hundreds of pages of documents related to Powers, including personal emails. In a statement released Friday, Gov. Rick Perry suggested Hall’s efforts were to reveal lawmakers’ attempts to request “admission to the UT law school on behalf of others.”

Gov. Perry appointed Hall in 2011. State law allows the House to move on certain impeachments, without the governor’s approval.

UT President Bill Powers ‘encouraged’ by SCOTUS ruling

Updated to add UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s statement

University of Texas president Bill Powers is applauding the Supreme Court’s decision to punt on the school’s use of race as an admissions factor. UT takes ethnicity into account as a part of its process to admit students who fall outside the system’s Top 10 percent rule. Powers said Monday the ruling will have no impact on the school’s current policy.

In a statement, Powers said:

“We’re encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case.

 We will continue to defend the University’s admission policy on remand in the lower court under the strict standards that the Court first articulated in the Bakke case, reaffirmed in the Grutter case, and laid out again today. We believe the University’s policy fully satisfies those standards.

We remain committed to assembling a student body at The University of Texas at Austin that provides the educational benefits of diversity on campus while respecting the rights of all students and acting within the constitutional framework established by the Court.

Today’s ruling will have no impact on admissions decisions we have already made or any immediate impact on our holistic admissions policies.”

UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa also issued this statement:

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court believes there is compelling governmental interest in assuring diversity at our nation’s universities and encouraged that the Court upheld its ruling in the Grutter case, a landmark decision that gave public universities the ability to use race as one of multiple factors in determining admissions. 

“Today’s decision sends the case back to the lower court to take a closer look at UT Austin’s admissions policy to ensure it follows the standards laid out in Grutter. 

“We stand ready to assist in any way possible in defending UT Austin’s admissions policy on remand and will seek to maintain a policy that sustains a diverse student population and follows the guidelines the Court has provided us. We respect the Court’s decision and sincerely appreciate its careful deliberation on this important matter.”

SCOTUS sends UT affirmative action case back to lower court

The Supreme Court is declining to make a final ruling on race-based college admissions. In an opinion released today, the justices sent the case back to a lower court for another look, sidestepping the larger constitutional question.

At issue is whether the University of Texas can use race as one of the factors used in the admission process. Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. She claimed she was passed over in favor of less qualified students because she is white.

The 7-1 decision overturns a previous ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Fisher’s case. Justice Anthony Kennedy said Monday that a federal appeals court needs to further review the case.