Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a brief last Tuesday urging the court to reinstate UT Regent Wallace Hall’s lawsuit against UT System Chancellor William McRaven and provide the requested records to Hall.
Hall is suing McRaven over access to confidential student records relating to UT-Austin’s admissions policy. Hall contended that he deserved the same access to student records that were accessed by an outside investigative firm, Kroll Inc., which McRaven has denied him access to. The brief comes after an appeal Hall initiated in December to the Texas Third Court of Appeals after a judge dismissed the case in a lower court.
“A regent’s access to University records must be absolute,” Paxton said in the brief. “The fiduciary duty belongs to the individual regent, and denying an individual access to the information needed to fulfill that duty frustrates the individual’s ability to fulfill the mandate placed on him or her by the legislature.”
The UT System declined to comment on Paxton’s brief.
Paxton said in the brief that the UT System would not be violating any privacy laws by providing the records to Wallace. Paxton wrote an opinion last May in support of Hall’s access to the records.
“First, Regent Hall is not asking for the release of any information,” read the brief. “He is simply asking to view the records. More importantly, Regent Hall is not asking for access to these records as a member of the public. He is asking for them in his official capacity as a Regent of the University of Texas System, who owes certain duties to the University. The University has not interpreted the privacy laws to apply to University officials acting in their official capacities in the past.”
Hall’s lawyer, Joe Knight, said he was pleased to receive the Attorney General’s support and hopes the court will set a trial date soon. He said Hall wants access to the records in order to better perform his duties as a Regent.
“I thought it was somewhat natural for the Attorney General to want to essentially support the opinion he issued last May,” Knight said. “It’s inconsistent to say that it would violate privacy law if UT were to allow the highest-ranking official in the UT System to have a look at the same information.”
McRaven has said previously that providing the student records to Hall would violate student rights to confidentiality.
“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 last year. “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 UT System.”