A UT System review of the University’s admissions process released Thursday found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing, but raised issue with the letters of recommendation from influential individuals, such as state legislators, sent directly to President William Powers Jr. or a dean.
“When letters from legislators that contain no important substantive information about the applicants are submitted outside [the prescribed admissions process], particularly those sent to the president of the university, it creates at least an appearance of impropriety,” the report stated.
The report was commissioned by UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa in late July 2013 after Regent Wallace Hall brought up issues with the admissions process from two emails he received from one of his records request to the University. The report notes that one of the emails contained information that should have been redacted under federal law before being given to Hall.
Hall is being investigated by the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations for overstepping his bounds as a regent. The committee, which has been investigating Hall since June 2013, found grounds for his impeachment exist on Monday. At Thursday’s UT System Board of Regents meeting, board Chairman Paul Foster asked Hall to resign.
Dan Sharphorn, interim vice chancellor and general counsel of the UT System, and Wanda Mercer, the System's associate vice chancellor for student affairs, wrote the report. Initially, the report was intended to only examine how letters of recommendation by prominent individuals influence admissions at the School of Law but was expanded to include all undergraduate admissions at UT.
According to the report, its findings suggest the letters likely influenced the admissions process. But, as the report notes, there are no rules forbidding the consideration of the letters.
At Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, Cigarroa proposed System-wide admissions process changes to the board. Among them, Cigarroa recommended ending the practice of allowing letters not sent as part of the prescribed admissions process to be considered. Cigarroa said he will meet with university presidents and admissions officials across the System before presenting his final recommendations at a later date.
“In many cases students interact with our campuses for the very first time through the admissions process,” Cigarroa said. “We want to promote consistency in the holistic review process.”
UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University is looking forward to working with Cigarroa to improve the admissions process.
“We’re heartened by the findings that there was no wrongdoing,” Susswein said. “We are very open to working with the chancellor and the other UT schools to develop best practices.”