Controversy surrounds Board of Regents

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Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

UT System Board of Regents member Wallace Hall filed a lawsuit against System Chancellor William McRaven on June 22 with the Travis County District Clerk for withholding information about “influence-peddling” in admissions.

The Board urged Hall to drop the lawsuit after holding a closed-door meeting without Hall on July 8, according to the Texas Tribune. The Board said the lawsuit “carries the potential to be costly and an unnecessary distraction.”

Hall left the meeting frustrated and told reporters he “[didn’t] think it was appropriate” to be excluded.

The lawsuit was a result of Hall’s request to access thousands of Kroll Associates, Inc. documents used in the admissions process. He began asking for access in early March to pursue his own investigation after an initial investigation conducted by Kroll reported then-President William Powers Jr. had admitted underqualified students to the University.

The initial Kroll investigation found the president could and had overridden decisions made by the admissions office of the University. On February 12, Powers admitted to intervening on 73 students’ behalf over a five-year period.

The investigation also found that legislators’ recommendations for students held more impact because the legislature controls funding.

“Hall is concerned about the thoroughness of the Chancellor’s quick, unilateral adjudication, and Hall continues to have concerns about the University’s admissions process,” the suit stated.

The Board of Regents voted 5–1 during its closed session July 8 in favor of keeping students’ information private, determining it to be protected by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“I further move that the board direct the chancellor, the vice chancellor and general counsel, and outside counsel, to vigorously defend the position of the board, as articulated in this motion,” Vice Chairman Steve Hicks said. 

McRaven did not mandate any disciplinary action after receiving the findings. He also refused to grant total access to the Kroll documents to Hall.

“Where federal or state law makes confidential information that relates to a specific individual, whether it is private health information or an individual student’s protected information, it is our duty to ensure that we strictly comply with those confidentiality requirements,” McRaven said in a statement June 23.  “I regret that Regent Hall believes the lawsuit is necessary or
appropriate, but I am confident that my actions are in compliance not only with what the law requires, but also with what is in the best interest of our students, patients, and employees across the U.T. System.” 

Hall’s lawsuit petitioned the court to rule McRaven’s refusal as outside his legal authority and mandate McRaven to grant him access to the Kroll documents.

“As a matter of law, System officials lack the authority to restrict a Regent’s access to information that he deems necessary for the performance of his official duties,” the suit read.

Hall asserted his independent investigation into admissions was driven by legitimate educational interest, citing a regent rule mandating each regent to understand operations, management, finances and effectiveness of academic, research and public service programs of the UT System. 

Attorney General Ken Paxton agreed Hall had legal grounds to sue for access to admissions-related documents and approved his request to hire outside legal counsel. 

If Hall wins the suit, the court would order McRaven to grant him access to all admissions-related documents he sought. And under the exceptions of FERPA rules, the UT System would have to “comply with a judicial order or lawfully ordered subpoena.”