Kroll Associates Inc.

OpenCalais Metadata: Ticker: 
KLASS
UT System chancellor William McRaven, center, and Daniel Sharphorn, general counsel and vice chancellor for the UT System, right, met with the Board of Regents on Monday.
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents and Chancellor William McRaven sent a letter Monday to Attorney General Ken Paxton arguing that individual regents’ access to records can be subject to limitations in certain situations.

At a specially called meeting Monday morning, eight members of the board voted unanimously to file a brief with the AG’s office outlining the System’s official stance on regent information requests. The ninth regent, Wallace Hall, abstained from the vote.

System counsels filed the brief in response to an appeal Hall’s private attorney filed with Paxton on April 20. Hall’s attorney, Bill Aleshire, asked Paxton to formally provide advice on Hall’s request to review thousands of documents related to UT-Austin admissions and asked whether the Board or the Chancellor had the authority to prohibit Hall from obtaining copies of those records.

Hall is attempting to review the thousands of documents Kroll Associates, Inc. used in an independent investigation earlier this year. The Kroll report found President William Powers Jr. intervened in a handful of admissions cases, but concluded Powers did not violate any policies.

When Hall asked to review the Kroll documents, three regents, including Hall himself, voted to grant him access. Under Regent Rule 19801, “Policy on Transparency, Accountability, and Access to Information,” UT System employees must respond to information requests “without undue delay” if two or more regents vote in support of the request. 

However, McRaven told Hall that Hall’s requests ventured into independent “inquiry and investigation” and therefore would require a majority board vote for approval. In a terse email exchange, McRaven told Hall his requests for information go beyond “any reasonable desire to be better informed as a regent.”

“This current request for information … is detrimental to the overall well-being of the system,” McRaven wrote in an email to Hall. 

The brief filed Monday, which represented McRaven and the Board of Regents’ official position on Hall’s appeal, argued that Hall’s attorney did not have standing to seek formal advice from Paxton in the first place.

“An individual Regent is not authorized to seek an opinion of the Attorney General in his official capacity without the consent of the Board, nor may an individual Regent be represented in his official capacity by private counsel,” System lawyers wrote. “In addition, the Attorney General generally declines fact-finding and answering hypothetical questions, both of which would be required in answering the questions presented.”

Even if Paxton did agree to provide Hall advice, Hall’s requests for the documents should still be denied, according to the brief. System counsel said Regents’ Rules and federal laws exist to regulate individual regents’ access to records, especially when student privacy is a consideration.

“A Regent’s access to information is not ‘unfettered,’” the System counsel wrote. “Given the potential volume of a request for information by an individual member of the Board and the impact on workload priorities, it is inherently reasonable that the Regents’ Rules provide checks and balances.”

In his letter to Paxton, Hall’s attorney argued that Regents do have an unfettered right to agency records. 

“A regent is not a mere figurehead, passive servant of corporate management,” Aleshire wrote. “Other opinions of the Attorney General also demonstrate that a regent’s inherent right of access to the agency records is not subject to judgement of the other board members (or of the Chancellor).” 

After the meeting Monday, Regent Alex Cranberg, who originally voted to grant Hall access to the Kroll records, explained his vote in support of the brief to the AG.

“I certainly feel it’s very important to express the need for individual regents to have [the] capacity to ask hard questions, even as the majority of the board might feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think this response suggests that the regents don’t have that capacity,” Cranberg said. “[I believe the response suggests] merely that there might be some limits placed on what a regent might reasonably ask for.”

UT System Chancellor William McRaven, center, and Daniel Sharphorn, General Counsel and Vice Chancellor for the UT System, right, met with the Board of Regents on Monday morning to discuss Regent Wallace Hall's document request. The board voted to file a brief with the Texas Attorney General's Office regarding the request.

Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Updated (3:34 p.m.): In a brief submitted on behalf of Chancellor William McRaven and the UT System Board of Regents, lawyers for the System asked the Attorney General to dismiss Regent Wallace Hall’s request for advice on Hall's disputed right to request thousands of admissions-related documents.

The nine-page brief comes after a two-hour meeting this morning when the Regents met with the Chancellor and the System’s legal advisers to determine their position on Hall’s request.

In the brief, Daniel Sharphorn, vice chancellor and general counsel for the UT System, and Francie Frederick, general counsel to the Board, argue that Hall did not have standing to seek formal advice from AG Ken Paxton in the first place.

“We respectfully suggest that the Attorney General consider the following...the request is not properly presented for formal advice from the Attorney General,” they wrote. “An individual Regent is not authorized to seek an opinion of the Attorney General in his official capacity without the consent of the Board, nor may an individual Regent be represented in his official capacity by private counsel. In addition, the Attorney General generally declines fact-finding and answering hypothetical questions, both of which would be required in answering the questions presented.”

Even if Paxton did agree to provide Hall advice, Hall’s requests for thousands of documents used in the admissions investigation should still be denied, they wrote.

“A Regent’s access to information is not ‘unfettered,’” Sharphorn and Frederick wrote. “Given the potential volume of a request for information by an individual member of the Board and the impact on workload priorities, it is inherently reasonable that the Regents’ Rules provide checks and balances.”

To read the full brief from Sharphorn and Frederick, scroll to the bottom of the story.

Original story: After more than two hours in executive session, the UT System Board of Regents voted to file a brief with the Texas Attorney General’s Office relating to Regent Wallace Hall's search for documents about UT-Austin admissions. UT System Chancellor William McRaven said the brief will be filed later today but declined to elaborate on its contents. 

Although the brief will address Hall’s appeal to Attorney General Ken Paxton for assistance in obtaining access to thousands of documents Kroll Associates, Inc. used in its independent investigation of UT-Austin admissions practices, board members also declined to address what the brief’s specific focus will be. The board voted to file the brief by a unanimous vote of eight, with Hall abstaining.

After the board reconvened in open session, Regent Alex Cranberg indicated the System brief will likely outline reasons Hall should not be granted the documents.

“I certainly feel it’s very important to express the need for individual regents to have [the] capacity to ask hard questions, even as the majority of the board might feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think this response suggests that the regents don’t have that capacity,” Cranberg said. “[I believe the response suggests] merely that there might be some limits placed on what a regent might reasonably ask for.”

Cranberg also alluded to concerns that some of the documents Hall is requesting might contain personal student information, protected under federal privacy laws.

“If anyone is asking, in effect, for the System to violate federal law, that should not be allowed to occur,” Cranberg said.

Hall began asking for this round of documents in early March, after the Kroll investigation concluded that President William Powers Jr. had exerted influence in the admissions of a handful of students but had not technically broken any rules. The investigation found that administrators at the University and within the UT System held “wildly divergent” attitudes about whether considering relationships between the University and high-ranking officials is an appropriate factor in the holistic review process.

After the results of the investigation were released, McRaven declined to take punitive action, although he said he would like to see admissions policies clarified going forward.

“There are a lot of thing we could do better, but, at the end of the day, no willful misconduct [occurred], and I found no criminal activity, and, therefore, I intend to take no disciplinary action,” McRaven said in February.

When Hall asked for the documents Kroll had used in the investigation, three regents, including Hall himself, voted to allow him access. Under Regent Rule 19801, “Policy on Transparency, Accountability, and Access to Information,” UT System employees must respond to information requests “without undue delay” if two or more regents vote in support of the request.

However, McRaven said Hall’s request fell under the category of “inquiry and investigation,” invoking another policy that would require a majority board vote for approval.

“I have no concerns about giving you information that is consistent with your regental needs to be better informed, i.e. how the admissions process works … that is what the board approved,” McRaven told Hall in a terse email exchange in April. “However, your twelve requests for information lead any reader to believe that you are further investigating the Kroll report, the Fisher litigation, Legislative compliance, all of which are perfectly acceptable for a board, if procedurally the majority of the board wants to undertake these new inquiries...If it is [a new inquiry], I have no problem with that, as long as the majority of the board approves.”

Hall responded by having his lawyer, Bill Aleshire, ask Paxton to address whether the board or the chancellor have the legal authority to prohibit regents from having access to copies of records they believes are necessary to fulfill regential duties.

“Regent Wallace Hall has concerns about corrupted processes at the University of Texas at Austin, most recently regarding student admissions practices,” Aleshire wrote to Paxton. “Other opinions of the Attorney General also demonstrate that a regent’s inherent right of access to [records] is not subject to the judgement of other board members (or of the Chancellor) as to whether they think the regent ‘needs’ that information.”

Read the brief the UT System counsel filed with the Attorney General's office here: 

Brief to Attorney General Ken Paxton on behalf of UT System Board of Regents and Chancellor William McRaven...

UT System Regent Wallace Hall is continuing his investigation into the University’s admission practices.
Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

UT System Regent Wallace Hall is appealing to the attorney general to review student information, despite UT System Chancellor William McRaven’s admonition that Hall’s requests go “well beyond any reasonable desire to be better informed as a regent.”

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office earlier this week, Hall’s attorney asked Paxton to intervene after McRaven denied Hall access to requested material. Hall is seeking files used in an independent investigation into admission practices at the University.

In early March, Hall asked to be provided with the documents Kroll Associates, Inc. used to review admissions. The results of the investigation, released in February, found that UT President William Powers Jr. had exerted influence in the admission of a handful of students but concluded that no formal rules were broken. 

Three regents voted to support Hall’s requests, but the Chancellor said Hall would not be given the records unless the Board authorized such access by majority vote, according to the letter Hall’s lawyer sent Paxton, first obtained by the Texas Tribune.

“The Chancellor asserted that giving Regent Hall access to the Kroll records constituted reopening the investigation of student admissions practices or involved FERPA-protected records,” the email said. “The Chancellor decided that Regent Hall did not have an ‘educational purpose’ for reviewing the Kroll records that was sufficient in the Chancellor’s opinion.”

In the email, Hall’s lawyer, Bill Aleshire, asked the attorney general to consider two questions: whether the Board of Regents can prohibit a regent from obtaining access to records the regent believes are “necessary to review to fulfill his duties as a regent,” and whether the chancellor can do to the same.

Aleshire invoked Regent Rule 19801, “Policy on Transparency, Accountability, and Access to Information,” which says that UT System employees must respond to requests for information “without undue delay.” 

“For the purpose of a Board vote on this issue, the vote of any two or more Regents in support of the request is sufficient to direct that the request will be filled without delay,” the policy says.

Barbara Holthaus, UT System assistant general counsel, said there is an exception to FERPA rules called the university official exception. Under this exception, anyone employed by the University who needs access to the confidential information to perform a job may have access. 

Holthaus said any University official seeking access must have an educational purpose, and a person’s position or title does not immediately justify a request for confidential student information. 

“In the case of a regent or a chancellor or president, as long as the access they are requiring is pursuant to a legitimate educational purpose and it’s part of their duties, then they can have access to information that is subject to FERPA,” Holthaus said. “What we know under FERPA, though, is the mere fact that you have a position such as a chancellor or a president doesn’t mean that you get access to any information that you need.” 

In another email to Hall, McRaven further attempted to explain why he did not feel Hall’s requests met those criteria.

“I have no concerns about giving you information that is consistent with your regental needs to be better informed, i.e. how the admissions process works … that is what the board approved,” McRaven wrote. “However, your twelve requests for information lead any reader to believe that you are further investigating the Kroll report, the Fisher litigation, Legislative compliance, all of which are perfectly acceptable for a board, if procedurally the majority of the board wants to undertake these new inquiries. I remain willing to meet with you and provide you information as long as that information isn’t part of an additional inquiry. If it is, I have no problem with that, as long as the majority of the board approves.”

College applications can be a stressful topic for many high school seniors, including those who wish to attend this University. A potential Longhorn has to ensure that his or her GPA and extracurricular activities are impressive enough to merit an acceptance letter. Some students are guaranteed admission, but some are stuck in the “maybe” pile, in need of an impressive award or accomplishment that can push them over the top. However, as recent news has demonstrated, there is an unconventional asset that those “maybe” students can use to their advantage: political connections.

According to a report by Kroll Associates Inc., President William Powers Jr. granted undergraduate admissions to 73 students with poor academic records between 2009 and 2014. The Kroll report found that, in the cases of these students, their political or legacy connections likely played an oversized role in their acceptance.

Powers and other University leaders would put “holds” on certain applications, according to a recent Austin American-Statesman article. These holds would signal that the applicant would not be formally rejected until the person who had placed the hold was notified. Final decisions concerning these applications would be made by the president’s office and the admissions office.

The Kroll report stated that while Powers’ office “appears to have violated no law, rule, or policy (with the possible exception of the prohibition against legacy admissions), it is an aspect of the admissions process that does not appear in the public representations of UT-Austin’s admissions process.”

It is an understatement to say that admitting students based on favorable connections is not a part of the “public representation” of the University. The UT website endorses the same standard admissions process used by many other universities. Applicants are encouraged to send in the usual items such as transcripts and SAT/ACT test scores. While the website does encourage students to send in recommendation letters, it says that they are only used to “provide more information about [an applicant’s] personal and academic achievements.” Nowhere on the website is it revealed that a recommendation letter or any other sort of endorsement from an impressive connection could help balance out a subpar transcript or test score.

While the idea of well-connected students having an easier time getting into college may not be a surprising one, it should be pointed out that the vast majority of students applying to UT do not have these kinds of connections, especially those who come from other states or countries. An out-of-state student probably isn’t going to have someone who can tip the scales in his or her favor if the admissions office decides to reject them. This practice is also hurtful toward lower-income students, who usually do not have the same advantages (and connections) that higher-income students do.

Perhaps the system will change. According to the Austin American-Statesman, UT Chancellor William McRaven is undecided on whether or not the admissions system should be isolated from the rest of the campus by a “firewall,” saying, “That may be a good idea. It may not. I don’t know.” McRaven is right to not make a quick decision. A barrier between the admissions office and the rest of UT would have to be put in effect before its potential benefits or consequences could truly be assessed. It could be that a “firewall” would allow for a more fair admissions process. It could be that the current system is still the better way to go. What matters is that all prospective students are reviewed using the same process. UT needs to ensure that students are admitted or rejected from this University because of their academic achievements, not because of who they were able to get to advocate for them.

This has always been a great school. The opportunities for growth and discovery afforded to students in all majors and programs are endless. We need to make sure that potential students are reviewed fairly so that all applications have an equal chance to enjoy this University and everything it has to offer.

Dolan is a journalism freshman from Abilene. Follow Dolan on Twitter @mimimdolan.

According to a report released Thursday by the UT System Board of Regents, President William Powers Jr. helped secure admittance for certain students despite objections of admissions office officials. Powers said that he believes his actions were in the best long-term interest of the University, citing similar practices at other universities.
Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers Jr. helped secure admittance for a small pool of applicants over objections of admissions office officials, according to a report released Thursday by the UT System Board of Regents.

An investigation, performed by Kroll Associates Inc., also found administrators at the University and in the UT System hold “wildly divergent” attitudes regarding whether it is appropriate for a public university to consider relationships with high-ranking officials as part of the holistic review process. 

Kroll is a corporate investigations and risk consulting firm the UT System contracted to investigate UT admissions practices.

The report concluded that Powers pressured undergraduate admissions officials to admit a “select handful” of applicants each year. There is no law, Regents rule or System policy that regulates how much weight the University can give external recommendations, such as letters and phone calls, in the admissions process.

“There are instances in which applicants do not succeed in the standard admissions process and the President’s Office will request, and in some cases direct, that certain files be reviewed again,” the report said. “Efforts were also made to minimize paper trails and written lists during this end-of-cycle [admission] process.”

Powers referenced similar practices at other universities to justify his actions.

“In every case, I acted in what, I believe, was the best long-term interest of the University,” Powers said. “In every select university across the country, similar processes take place.”

UT System Chancellor William McRaven said because the investigation found no broken laws or rules, he intends only to make changes for future admission activities. 

“There are a lot of thing we could do better, but, at the end of the day, no willful misconduct [occurred], and I found no criminal activity, and, therefore, I intend to take no disciplinary action,” McRaven said.

The UT System commissioned Kroll to conduct an external investigation of the admissions process after Board of Regents member Wallace Hall alleged that UT administrators were admitting under-qualified applicants with connections to prominent legislators. The report found that many children of UT System officials were likely given special treatment as well.

In an email to Board of Regents members, McRaven said Powers’ lack of transparency concerned him.

“Clearly, President Powers’ managerial style could have been less intrusive and his decisions more apparent,” McRaven said.

Larry Sager, former dean of the UT School of Law, said Brazzil, Powers’ chief of staff, called Sager about students who had applied to the law school as many as 20 times per year.

“Sager acknowledged that the intensity of Brazzil’s interest in a candidate ‘may have on occasion swayed [his] decision,’” the report said.

The report found no evidence of a structured process for special treatment of recommended applicants.

“Sending recommendation letters directly to the UT President has been a widespread and longstanding practice by a host of distinguished individuals, [and thus] any problems with this practice would seem to be much more a matter of culture than individual misconduct,” the report said.

Powers acknowledged the wide-spread acceptance of the admission intervention culture.

“I inherited this process, which was well-known by regents, former chancellors, the Board of Regents office and UT System officials — many of whom, as the report notes, asked me to intervene on their behalf,” Powers said.

Read the full report here:





























A report released Thursday by the UT System Board of Regents shows that President William Powers Jr. put pressure on undergraduate admissions officials in regards to certain students.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers Jr. helped secure admittance for students over objections of admissions office, according to a report released Thursday by the UT System Board of Regents.

The report, performed by Kroll Associates Inc., a corporate investigations and risk consulting firm, shows that Powers put pressure on undergraduate admissions officials for some of the recommended students.

“There are instances in which applicants do not succeed in the standard admissions process and the President’s Office will request, and in some cases direct, that certain files be reviewed again,” the report said.

According to the report, a former high-level admissions official said there was “frequent pressure placed on the Admissions Office by the President’s Office.” The report said Powers designated his chief of staff, Nancy Brazzil, or her assistant, to “keep an eye on particular applicants with the Admissions Office.”

The report said meetings occurred between the admissions director and Brazzil before admission decision deadlines.

“Admissions was essentially ‘forced to admit’ many of these applicants over the objection of Admissions, including some applicants who, in this former official’s opinion, clearly did not qualify for admission,” the report said.

Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, said Brazzil called to talk with Sager about students who had applied to the law school as many as 20 times per year.

“Sager acknowledged that the intensity of Brazzil’s interest in a candidate ‘may have on occasion swayed my decision,’” the report said.

The report found no evidence of the establishment “‘of a systematic, structured, or centralized process of reviewing and admitting applicants recommended by influential individuals;’ and no evidence of overt pressure on Admissions Office staff to admit applicants based on the recommendations of persons of influence.”

The report shows that, despite there being no evidence of  systematic approval of students who had one of the letters of recommendation, admission rates for applicants with letters of recommendation were “significantly higher” than that of other applicants.  

In the report, Kroll looked to understand the process of how the University handles recommendation letters from a “friend of the university” or “person of influence”. The report defines “person of influence” as a public official, UT System official, university official, Board of Regent member, important donor or important alumnus.                             

“‘Sending recommendation letters directly to the U.T. president has been a widespread and longstanding practice by a host of distinguished individuals, [and thus] any problems with this practice would seem to be much more a matter of culture than individual misconduct,’” the report said.

In July 2013, former UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa authorized a limited inquiry into the matter in response to Regent Wallace Hall’s concerns regarding Powers admitting students that had letters of recommendation from powerful legislators.

In June 2014, Cigarroa said the UT System would expand the investigation and contracted Kroll to perform the investigation.

After being denied access to interviews relating to the external investigation of UT’s admissions process, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said he is concerned the investigation may focus on President William Powers Jr.

At a special meeting last week, the UT System Board of Regents denied a request from Larson and state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, to attend or monitor all interviews conducted by Kroll Associates, Inc., the risk mitigation response firm leading the investigation that will look at outside influence over the admissions process. Martinez Fischer and Larson, both members of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, were assigned to monitor the System by the committee’s co-chairs in August, after the committee’s censure of Regent Wallace Hall. 

Larson, who also expressed his concerns to the board in a Sept. 18 letter, said he wanted to sit in on the interviews conducted by Kroll to ensure that System officials and regents were also being investigated. 

“I wanted to make sure that we had a holistic investigation, and it wasn’t targeted specifically at President Powers,” Larson said. “It’s unfortunate that President Powers has been subjected to the pettiness of the regents. I hope that when the new chancellor comes in, we can put this behind us.”

Larson said he has heard of regents asking System staff members to go to the UT admissions office and request that certain students be considered for admission into the University.

“They typically ask a staff member to go over and request a consideration that the student be admitted to UT-Austin,” Larson said. “I’ve been told by System staff that’s how they handle it.”

Records first obtained by The Texas Tribune show Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa — who commissioned the Kroll Associates investigation in June — has forwarded letters of recommendation, including those from state legislators, to Powers since he became chancellor in 2009. Cigarroa said at a board meeting in May that letters not sent through the prescribed process should no longer be considered in admissions decisions, and the regents formally approved the change in July.

The System began conducting its own inquiry into legislative influence over the University’s admissions in July 2013, after Hall brought up issues with two emails he uncovered from one of his requests for University records. In May, the System announced the inquiry found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing, but it did determine letters of recommendation sent by legislators to Powers or a dean likely influenced the admissions process.

Martinez Fischer said the board’s denial of the request makes it clear there is a level of disconnect between the UT System and the role of the legislative branch.

“I think time will certainly tell whether the UT System is following the laws that every other Texas agency is required to follow,” Martinez Fischer said. 

The UT System Board of Regents will discuss issues relating to the external investigation of UT’s admissions process by Kroll Associates, Inc., a risk mitigation response firm, at a meeting over telephone conference call Monday. 

The board will discuss a Sept. 8 letter from state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, announcing their intention to attend or monitor all interviews conducted by Kroll. Following the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations’ censure of Regent Wallace Hall on Aug. 11, the committee announced Martinez Fischer and Larson would continue to monitor the System. 

“While we know that there have been allegations of legislative influence on admissions, we believe that every member of the Legislature is responsible for his or her own actions, and our requests are made solely as part of our official duty as monitors of The UT Board of Regents, The UT System, and UT component institutions,” Martinez Fischer and Larson said in the letter. 

The System conducted its own inquiry into legislative influence over the University’s admissions in July 2013, after Hall brought up issues with two emails he uncovered from one of his record requests to the University. Releasing its report in May, the inquiry found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing, but determined letters of recommendation sent by legislators to President William Powers Jr. or a dean likely influence the admissions process. 

In June, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced the System would launch a full external investigation of University admissions because of remaining concerns about the process. 

According to the contract between Kroll and the UT System, the firm will complete the investigation by Oct. 15. 

The letter from Martinez Fischer and Larson comes months after board Chairman Paul Foster asked the Texas Legislature in July not to attempt influencing board
decisions. 

“The point is the board has a role,” Foster said after the board’s July meeting. “It’s not political. We’re not politicians. I believe we should be left alone to do our business.”

The UT System hired Kroll Associates, Inc., a risk mitigation response firm, in August to conduct an investigation into the University’s admissions process, according to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo.

The System reported in May that it found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing after Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa asked the System to administer its own investigation in July 2013. Cigarroa issued his request after Regent Wallace Hall brought up issues he discovered while examining University records.  

The System found there were still questions about whether letters of recommendation sent directly to President William Powers Jr. or a dean from influential individuals, such as state legislators, influenced admissions decisions. 

Cigarroa announced in June that the System would launch a full external investigation of University admissions because of remaining public concern about the process, LaCoste-Caputo said.

LaCoste-Caputo said Kroll, which is based out of New York City, is still in the initial stages of its investigation. The investigation is expected to be completed by Oct. 15.

The firm plans to determine whether UT-Austin admissions decisions are made for any reason other than an applicant’s individual merit as measured by academic achievement and “officially established personal holistic attributes,” according to the contract.