Mar 31st - 12:22 pm
A Travis County grand jury is calling on the University of Texas System to remove Regent Wallace Hall, Jr. A four-page report released Tuesday fell short of indicting the UT system regent, but said, “we are appalled at the Regent’s unaccountable and abusive behavior,” and added that it “is in the best interest of the state” to remove Hall from office.
The grand jury had been asked to look into allegations of abuse of office, misuse of information and official oppression against Hall after he conducted a personal investigation into UT Austin President Bill Powers. The grand jury said Hall’s “abusive excess” overwhelmed the system with 800,000 pages of open records requests, and added he tried to avoid paying for the report that cost about a million dollars to complete.
“Outrageously, after requiring university staff to double their effort to fulfill these parallel requests, he actually requested not to be charged (like other private citizens are) for the cost of his private open records requests.”
The report accuses Hall of avoiding transparency and accountability by communicating orders verbally to avoid a paper trail, and said his actions led to leaks of confidential student information. The report says Hall’s “over leveraging of his power resulted in lost talent, lowered morale, exposure of student information and unreasonable expenses.”
The grand jury also recommended changes in protocols for regents in the future, including making regents pay for open records requests and establishing consequences for distributing confidential data. It also suggests requiring regents to use university email accounts for all official business like other employees.
A House Committee censured Regent Hall last year due to his investigation, and several lawmakers called for his resignation. Hall’s supporters, including then-Governor Rick Perry who appointed him, said Hall’s investigation showed irregular admissions practices at UT-Austin. Hall got some vindication from an independent investigation released earlier this year that said it did find some applicants who had been accepted to UT despite objections from the admissions office due to the insistence of UT-Austin President Bill Powers. But Powers defended those actions, saying it was a common practice at colleges around the country and was in the long-term interest of the university. System Chancellor William McRaven did not discipline Powers after that report.
Rep. Dan Flynn (R – TX House District 2), who was a co-chair of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, released this joint statement after the grand jury report on behalf of himself and fellow co-chair Rep. Carol Alvarado (D – TX House District 145):
The grand jury report that came out this morning demonstrates why our committee needed to investigate Regent Hall and his behavior. Taxpayers expect their elected representatives to provide oversight of state agencies and executive appointees. Such oversight is especially important when appointees abuse their office. With this investigation now complete and with an outstanding new chancellor and strong new regents in place, we are optimistic that the UT System is ready to move forward and focus on the needs of its students and our state.
Regent Hall released the following statement after the grand jury’s decision not to indict him was made public:
The campaign by Speaker Straus, Representative Flynn and Senator Seliger to criminalize my service as a Regent constitutes abuse of office. Their use of the levers of political power to cover up wrongdoing by legislators should now be investigated, and those exposed for their abuses should be driven from office.
Feb 16th - 3:15 pm
UT System Chancellor William McRaven has announced a new committee to reform the controversial admissions process at the state’s flagship public university. The six-member panel will review the recommendations in last week’s Kroll report into admissions at UT-Austin as well as recommendations from the UT System Board of Regents released last year.
The panel includes some high-powered names from the Texas higher education system, including former UT Austin presidents Larry Faulkner, Peter Flawn and William Cunningham, as well as former UT System chancellors Mark Yudof and Dan Burck and former UT System Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes. McRaven says the goal for the committee is to advise the Board of Regents on best practices in university admissions that also provide transparency and oversight.
It comes after last week’s report which said UT Austin President Bill Powers did exert influence on a small number of applicants, including some with ties to donors and legislators. The report found Powers did not break any rules, but did suggest setting in place regulations to clarify vagueness in how much weight to put on a reference from the university president. Powers has stood behind his actions, saying universities across the country take actions like this to maintain relationships with people who benefit the school’s long-term interests. Chancellor McRaven says he wants to see this new report compared with internal investigations to find the best route forward for university admissions.
“My goal is to ensure full and open transparency to the public with respect to how admissions decisions are made at UT Austin. I realize that admissions practices are complicated and nuanced processes, but we must clearly define a policy that determines the degree of appropriate discretion at the institution level, while ensuring a fair and transparent process for applicants.”
UT System Chancellor William McRaven
McRaven says the committee is expected to release its recommendations on how to strengthen UT’s admission process within the next 60 days.
Feb 12th - 2:23 pm
A new independent report says University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers used his authority to get students admitted into the state’s flagship school despite objections of the admissions office, and misled lawyers looking into his conduct.
The investigation ordered by former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa found Powers stepped in to have “must-have” applicants accepted, including some who had the recommendation of powerful people in the state. The report also found he and his chief of staff, Nancy Brazzil, failed to tell the whole truth when questioned about it by the system’s attorneys.
The review found no evidence any applicant was admitted as a “result of a quid pro quo or other inappropriate promise or exchange”, and did say the number of less-qualified applicants was relatively small. In all, the investigation found 73 applicants who were admitted with a combined SAT score of less than 1100 and a high school GPA of less than 2.9. But the report did find “a few cases each year of ‘truly unqualified kids,'” and added political connections may have influenced admission decisions in a small number of cases.
The report gives some weight to accusations made by UT System Regent Wallace Hall, who caused conflict with other regents over his investigation into whether lawmakers had too much influence over the admissions process. Lawmakers threatened to impeach Hall and ultimately censured him over what many called a “witch hunt” aimed at Powers. The censure is a mainly symbolic gesture.
A previous internal report found the acceptance rate among students who had a recommendation from a “friend of the university” or other “person of influence” was nearly double the rate of the average applicant. But this in-depth report says no rules were broken by Powers. It says there are many other influences that got less-qualified students admitted, and pointed out many of these processes have been in place since long before Powers became president. It said UT’s “holistic admission process is inherently subjective,” and added that if there is a desire to change the president’s authority in the admissions process, then a new rule or law would need to be enacted.
Kroll found no existing law or statute, Regents Rule or UT-System Policy concerning how much weight to give “external” recommendations (letters, phone calls, inquiries) in the admissions process. For many years, the practice of the Board of Regents, the Chancellor, and UT-System has been to forward letters and inquiries about applicants to the UT-Austin President’s Office. This practice implicitly suggests that the President of UT-Austin oversees the Admissions Office and is the final arbiter in the admissions process. If the President of UT-Austin, as a matter of law or policy, is to play a different role in admissions determinations, it would seem incumbent upon the legislature or the Board of Regents to enact a law or rule that so states. No such rule or law presently exists.
UT-Austin President Bill Powers released the following statement:
I believe UT Austin’s admissions practices are motivated by fairness, the long-term interests of the University, and serving the public good. In response to the report, I would like to make six points:
1. As Kroll reported, over a five-year period, my office intervened on behalf of “a relatively small” number of students. In particular, the report cited 73 applicants who normally would not have been admitted, or fewer than one in 1,000 admitted students.
2. In every case, I acted in what I believed was the best interest of the University.
3. Our admissions practices are fully consistent with all established laws, rules, and policies.
4. I inherited this process, which was well known by regents, former chancellors, the Board of Regents Office, and UT System officials, many of whom, as the report notes, asked me to intervene on their behalf. This process, both prior to and during my presidency, was in the best long-term interest of the University.
5. As the Kroll report points out, no spots at the University were saved and no one was displaced by this practice. The students in question were simply added to the incoming class.
6. It is my observation that some similar process exists at virtually every selective university in America, and it does so because it serves the best interests of the institutions.
I am proud of our staff for the full cooperation it gave to the inquiry, as cited in the report by the firm Kroll & Associates: “The commitment, dedication, and good faith of all officials and personnel with whom we interacted were readily apparent.” The Kroll report contains many recommendations worth considering.
I thank Chancellor McRaven for his thoughtful leadership.
Aug 11th - 5:10 pm
The committee investigating UT Regent Wallace Hall handed down a reprimand Monday that falls short of calling for impeachment. The Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has been investigating Hall for what some lawmakers have called a “witch hunt” against UT Austin President Bill Powers. Hall is also accused of abusing his position and violating student privacy rights through public information requests.
The panel voted in May that grounds for Hall’s impeachment existed but they declined to draw up formal charges and send them to the full House. Instead, Monday, the committee voted 6-to-1 to censure Hall. However, members say the impeachment option is still on the table. Republican Rep. Charles Perry was the only ‘no’ vote.
Democratic State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer serves on the House Transparency Committee and helped draft the 26-page censure document. Martinez Fischer said while there aren’t articles of impeachment, the censure is serious.
“It’s important for us to take measured steps, but to set the tone,” he said. “And this censure document really does that. It’s not a slap on the wrist. It’s an embarrassing document. If I was Regent Hall, I would be embarrassed to know that this is going to be a part of the public record.”
The Travis County Public Integrity Unit is also investigating Hall’s actions, and he could still face criminal charges.
Hall released a statement following the committee vote. He said, in part:
“The committee’s findings are based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentations. Speaker Straus and his committee have abused the public’s trust and money to cover up their improper interference in System operations, including to defend a university president who was repeatedly asked to leave.”
Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed Hall, released a statement of support. He said:
“Regent Hall has acted how I expect all appointees to act – in the best interest of Texas. He has rightly asked tough questions and held people accountable for their actions, even in the face of withering personal attacks. I hope today closes this ugly chapter and Regent Hall’s critics can stop wasting time and start focusing on what’s important, ensuring higher education is affordable, accessible and accountable to all Texans.”
May 21st - 8:35 pm
In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard more on how the impeachment process could move forward. Plus committee member Trey Martinez Fischer joined us in-studio to respond to the governor’s comments and talk about where things go from here.
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May 21st - 4:19 pm
Gov. Rick Perry today issued a statement of support for UT System Regent Wallace Hall. A select House committee is drawing up articles of impeachment against Hall, who has been accused of conducting a “witch hunt” against UT Austin President Bill Powers.
Here’s the governor’s statement:
“Wallace Hall should be commended for his persistence – in the face of overwhelming opposition from bureaucrats – in trying to ensure the institutions of higher education under his purview are operating effectively, efficiently and within the law. Hall is doing exactly what every regent and every appointee in the State of Texas should be doing: asking tough questions, gathering facts and searching for the truth. Even the chairman of the Board of Regents has said Hall did not commit an impeachable offense or a crime. Texans should be outraged by his treatment, and deeply concerned it will have a chilling effect on those who are tasked with the oversight of state agencies and institutions that they are responsible for.”
May 19th - 5:10 pm
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.
Apr 24th - 8:05 pm
Lawmakers met behind closed doors most of the time, but in Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke to Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer for some insight into what action the committee is considering next.
More behind-the-scenes negotiations are coming to light about Governor Perry’s veto of Public Integrity Unit Funding. Political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi weighed in on what the latest twist could mean.
In a move that could radically change how Internet content is delivered, the Federal Communications Commission is proposing new rules giving online providers the right to charge more for so-called “fast lanes” into your home or office. We checked in on the latest from Washington on what the change could mean.
Apr 14th - 4:11 pm
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.
Feb 10th - 12:19 pm
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.