Texas Supreme Court justices questioned UT Regent Wallace Hall’s case after hearing oral arguments Jan. 11 from a lawsuit filed by Hall against UT System Chancellor William McRaven.
Four of the nine justices questioned Hall’s arguments that McRaven broke the law and violated Hall’s right in not allowing him to see confidential student records, according to the Texas Tribune.
Hall filed the lawsuit in June 2015 against McRaven in hopes of obtaining student records to prove that students with influential connections were admitted to the University despite being unqualified for admission.
McRaven gave Hall more than 600,000 pages of records in the past with student names redacted in accordance with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits universities from releasing students records to employees or the public without a legitimate educational reason.
However, Hall’s lawyer, Joseph Knight, said FERPA does allow Hall to view the documents McRaven withheld from him.
“[The] Chancellor was specifically authorized to withhold information only if FERPA prohibits him from providing it,” Knight said in a post-submission letter brief filed on behalf of Hall. “UT itself told the legislature that FERPA does not prohibit Hall from reviewing confidential information relevant to concerns about UT’s admissions standards. Now, as then, Hall has a legitimate educational interest in information bearing on the integrity of UT’s admissions standards.”
McRaven’s lawyer, Wallace Jefferson, said the redacted information contains personal, intimate information that students shared confidentially, which Hall doesn’t need to see to do his job.
“A student has a right to know that their private information will remain private,” Jefferson said.
According to the Texas Tribune, some of the justices wondered whether Hall should have sued the University instead of McRaven because of McRaven’s decision to act accordingly to University guidelines. Other justices sided with Hall because they believed regents should have access to the records to see if students were being admitted because of powerful connections.
Hall requested to view the records after an investigator hired by the UT System found numerous students had been admitted into the University because of influential connections in spite of them being unqualified. The resignation of former President Bill Powers followed the investigation, along with the System making changes to the way it conducted its admissions.
Although Hall sued McRaven in 2015, a district judge rejected the case, and an appeals court denied an appeal made by Hall in August 2016.
Hall filed to the Supreme Court because he said it was illegal to deny a regent access to the documents he requested, making it harder for him, or any regent, to do their job properly.
“Preventing any regent from learning the nature of these issues neuters his or her statutory role and leaves UT at risk for another damaging scandal once these unaddressed issues come to light,” Knight said in the post-submission letter brief.
Hall and Knight did not return a request for comment.
McRaven said he respects the Court’s decision and how it will handle the case.
“The Court was very active and prepared, and we are confident it will come to a reasoned decision,” McRaven said in a statement.