In a major step away from the private, behind-the-scenes disagreements among the members of the UT System Board of Regents, board Chairman Paul Foster publicly asked Regent Wallace Hall to resign at the board's meeting Thursday.
Foster addressed Hall directly at the board meeting and said, even though Hall has not violated any board rules or policies, his resignation would be the best thing for the System.
“I do not believe you have violated any current board rules or policy and I do not think a vote on your service is appropriate,” Foster said. “I urge you to take a selfless step to benefit the UT System and resign from the board. … I believe this step would be the most beneficial action you could take at this time.”
The statement comes three days after the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations determined there are grounds for Hall’s impeachment. The committee had been investigating Hall since June 2013 for potentially overstepping his bounds as a regent. The committee is scheduled to meet on May 21 and 22 to determine the nature of specific articles of impeachment.
If the committee votes on specific articles, Hall’s case will go to the full Texas House of Representatives. If a majority of the members of the House approve of the case’s merits, it will go to the Texas Senate, where members will convene as a court to make a final decision. If the Senate concurs with the committee’s recommendation, Hall will be the first non-elected official to be impeached in Texas history.
At the transparency committee meeting on Monday, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, called on the regents to issue a vote of no confidence in Hall.
Despite several regents offering statements on Hall, Foster opted not to take a vote of no confidence Thursday. Hall left the meeting without making any statements.
Regent Jeffrey Hildebrand, who was appointed to the board in February 2013, also called for Hall’s resignation at Thursday’s meeting and said it was time for the board to focus on other matters.
“I think the time has come to move beyond the controversy,” Hildebrand said. “It’s been a controversy that, for far too long, has consumed too much of the board’s resources. … We must move past this controversy and get to the business at hand of moving this System forward that is so vital to the state of Texas."
Foster also addressed the various leaks of communications from executive session meetings that have occurred this past year. In August 2013, Regent Alex Cranberg recorded an executive session meeting and took detailed notes, which were released to the press. Notes that Hall took during an executive session meeting were also released.
“Trust is something that is earned and once violated is very difficult for it to be regained,” Foster said.
Cranberg — along with Gene Powell, regent and vice chairman of the board — defended Hall at Thursday's meeting and said Hall only pursued matters of extreme importance to the System and its institutions.
“We’re all here to advance the best interests of the University of Texas,” Cranberg said. “I don’t think there is any doubt around this table of the commitment and good will of all of the regents. I feel sometimes that there’s been a lot of mischaracterization, exaggeration and incorrect information.”
Foster said he has a set of recommendations he wants to implement on the board in order to combat some of the problems the board has encountered this year, including the appropriate role of a regent and procedures for maintaining the confidentiality of private board discussions. Foster said he will send his recommendations to the regents within the next few weeks so they will have time to review them before taking a vote.
The discussion came after Hall asked the regents to reopen its investigation into the nonprofit UT Law School Foundation, and its connection to UT President William Powers Jr. Hall’s request was voted down 5-3. The UT System conducted a review of the foundation in November 2012, which some regents — including Hall — were not satisfied with because they felt it was not critical enough. The regents then gave the case to the Texas Attorney General’s office to conduct another review.
At Thursday’s meeting, Hall said the attorney general’s office had yet to open its investigation. Foster said the attorney general’s office was waiting on a letter from Hall, but Hall claimed he had given the office all the information he had.
Powers, who was at the meeting, said UT and the System should be looking forward.
“I very much appreciate the chairman’s comments,” Powers said. “It’s a time to move forward and for us to focus on the things the System and the campuses need to do.”
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio and member of the committee investigating Hall, praised Foster for requesting Hall’s resignation in a statement released after the board meeting.
“The Board’s actions confirm the serious problems that I’ve observed during the Transparency Committee’s investigation and I thank the Board for taking seriously my call for the System to solve this problem themselves,” Martinez Fischer said in the statement. “It is my sincere hope that Regent Hall [will] do the right thing.”
This article has been updated since its original publication. The full name of the committee investigating Hall is the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.