UT System to hire outside firm to investigate University admissions


Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System will launch an external investigation into the University’s admissions process, according to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo.

After the System released its findings from a limited investigation in May, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Dan Sharphorn, System vice chancellor and general counsel, determined a full investigation was needed because of questions raised about the admissions process by the public, LaCoste-Caputo said.

“There were some lingering questions and the chancellor felt a deeper investigation was needed,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

Cigarroa first announced the investigation in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Friday. An outside firm has not yet been selected.

The limited investigation, which looked at the influence of letters of recommendations from state legislators on the University’s admissions process, was conducted by Sharphorn and Wanda Mercer, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. According its report, the investigation found there was no structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing at the University, but found instances in which letters from legislators sent directly to President William Powers Jr. or a dean likely influenced the admissions process.

“With the undergraduate data, there is at least the strong appearance that the letters of recommendation from legislators, regardless of the strength of the substance of the recommendations, count more in admissions decisions than other letters of recommendations,” the report stated.

At a Board of Regents meeting in May, Cigarroa suggested ending the practice of allowing letters not submitted through the prescribed process to be considered in admissions decisions and said he would review System-wide admissions processes by meeting with institution presidents and admissions officials to develop new recommendations for change.

According to the report, Cigarroa authorized the initial investigation in 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.

Because of his large records requests to the University, Hall became the subject of a House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations investigation after state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority and working to remove Powers from office. In May, the committee determined grounds for his impeachment exist, and it is in the process of drafting specific impeachment articles.

One of the committee’s co-chairs, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said he supports the System’s investigation.

“That’s part of what [the transparency committee] suggested all along is that there need to be some procedural changes at the University, and I applaud them for going forward to delve into those procedures,” Flynn said.

Flynn said the committee could act if the investigation finds wrongdoing.

“If there’s something that’s inappropriate, it needs to be sought out,” Flynn said. “If after their probe they find something that’s inappropriate, then certainly it should be brought to attention.”

UT spokesman Gary Susswein declined to comment on the new investigation.