Regent Wallace Hall

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...

A Travis County grand jury declined to indict UT System Regent Wallace Hall on Tuesday on charges of abuse of office, misuse of information and official oppression. However, it took the unusual step of issuing a report condemning Hall and calling for his removal.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents voted at a meeting Wednessday to allow Regent Wallace Hall to review information collected during an investigation into UT admission practices.

The Board released the results of the investigation in question, conducted by Kroll Associates, an external investigation firm, in early February. In early March, Hall requested to see “any and all information” gathered in the investigation before it was to be destroyed.

The external investigation found that a small number of unqualified students were admitted to UT at the direction of President Williams Powers Jr. UT System Chancellor William McRaven said no disciplinary action was needed because no rules or laws were broken.

Hall defended his request of the information on the grounds that he would use the information for admission policy decisions in the future, according to the Texas Tribune.

While the regents voted to allow Hall to look into the information, they warned him about overstepping the rules and conducting investigations on his own, according to the Tribune.

Earlier this week, UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the meeting was called as a result of new rules regarding information requests. The rule, adopted in February 2014, specifies that all information requests must go through the chairman and chancellor. If either person finds concern, the request is discussed in a meeting with the other regents.

In March, a grand jury chose not to indict Hall on violation of student privacy laws but called for his impeachment from office. The grand jury issued a report condemning his actions.

“Hall never divulged what purpose or goal he had padlocked in his mind before launching this immense barrage of records requests, rapid firing them in a fashion seemingly intended to deteriorate the systems in place,” the report said.

Hall’s initial requests led to an internal investigation that was completed by the UT System prior to the external investigation by Kroll. 

House transparency committee co-chairs and state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, address the media after a meeting on May 12. The committee determined by a 7-1 vote that there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall's impeachment. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

After investigating Regent Wallace Hall for more than a year, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted 6-1 to issue him an "admonishment and censure" on Monday.

The decision came after the committee met for almost four hours in executive session. One of the committee's co-chairs, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said Hall is the first regent on a public university governing board to be censured in the state's history.

"It will go with him the rest of his life. I don't know that anyone wants to have that mark on their business record," Flynn said to reporters after the meeting. "I think it sends a strong message."

In June 2013, the committee began investigating Hall, who had filed multiple large records requests to the University, after state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority as regent and working to remove President William Powers Jr.

The committee hired well-known Houston attorney Rusty Hardin as its special counsel and heard testimony from various System and University officials, including Powers and Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. Instead of issuing a subpoena, the committee invited Hall to testify. Hall declined and never testified before the committee during the investigation.

In May, the committee determined grounds for Hall’s impeachment exist in a 7-1 vote. While the committee had discussed drafting specific articles of impeachment against Hall following the vote, multiple members suggested issuing a public censure as an alternative at a July meeting.

The censure document, primarily written by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, finds fault with Hall's “ends-justifies-the-means approach" to investigating issues at the University and the UT System.

“The committee today at length sets out its understanding that Mr. Hall's actions have crossed the line from remaining informed and engaged to violating his regental and fiduciary duties," the document states. "Not only did Mr. Hall’s demands and conduct create a toxic environment on the University of Texas at Austin campus and within the System, but the manner in which that conduct was undertaken was simply not constructive taken as a whole."

The 28-page document also lists and describes some of the committee's findings on Hall's actions, including an incident in which Hall allegedy violated federal student privacy laws. Based on an earlier report from Hardin detailing the alleged violation, the Travis County District Attorney's office opened a criminal investigation into Hall in April.

In a statement, Hall criticized the document and said the state legislature's oversight of the System is "improper interference."

"The committee's findings are based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentations," Hall said. "Intimidation of non-paid public servants by an 'experimental' committee should not be tolerated by the public, the media, or other Texas officials."

Paul Foster, Board of Regents chairman, addressed his issues with the document in a statement released after the meeting, saying the committee's finding that the board "lost instiutional control" was inaccurate. Foster, who asked Hall to resign in May, also said the System does not believe Hall violated any state law or System rule.

"While I and others may not always concur with the style and methods employed by Regent Wallace Hall, I will affirm that he has always diligently worked to further what he sees as the best interests of the UT System," Foster said.

Gov. Rick Perry, who has expressed his support for Hall throughout the investigation, said he hoped the censure would end the matter in a statement on Monday.

"I hope today closes this ugly chapter and Regent Hall's critics can stop wasting time and start focusing on what's important, ensuring higher education is affordable, accessible and accountable to all Texans," Perry said.

The committee's other co-chair, state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said pursuing Hall’s impeachment is not off the table.

"A vote of censure is not a vote against impeachment,” Alvarado said. “However, we believe our investigation would benefit by taking some formal action at this time.”

After the meeting, Alvarado said new evidence or the district attorney's investigation could prompt the committee to take further action against Hall.

If he were to be impeachmed, Hall would be the first nonelected official in the state's history to face such action. Hall's term expires in February 2017. Both Cigarroa and Powers will leave resign from their positions in Decemeber and June 2015, respectively.

According to the censure document, the committee will maintain "full jurisdiction and continuing oversight" of the System. Alvarado said while the committee will begin looking into to other matters for the first time since its invesitgation in to Hall began, state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, will be responsible for monitoring issues at the System.

State Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, gave the lone vote against the censure. After the meeting, Perry said he was cautious of the committee micromanaging the UT System. In May, he also voted against grounds for Hall’s impeachment existing. State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, was absent for Monday's meeting.

This article has been updated throughout since its original publication.

House transparency committee co-chairs and state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, address the media after a meeting on May 12. The committee determined by a 7-1 vote that there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall's impeachment. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations co-chairs sent a letter on Monday to Paul Foster, UT System Board of Regents chairman, asking the board not to make any employment decisions with witnesses in its investigation into Regent Wallace Hall.

The letter – written by state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton – comes in response to media reports over the weekend that Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa asked President William Powers Jr. on July 2 to either resign or be removed from his position by the Board of Regents. In a letter to Cigarroa, Powers said he wanted to resign after the 2015 legislative session.

Powers testified before the transparency committee in December 2013. On July 4, UT spokesman Gary Susswein declined to comment on Powers' potential removal.

Cigarroa’s decision comes weeks after he decided the System will hire an outside firm to conduct a new investigation into the University’s admissions process. In May, a limited inquiry conducted by two System officials into legislative influence on admissions found no structured system of wrongdoing but found instances in which letters of recommendation sent directly to Powers or a dean likely influenced admissions decisions.

In an interview with The Daily Texan in June, Flynn said he supported the new investigation.

According to the regents’ agenda for their upcoming meeting on Thursday, they will discuss Powers’ employment in executive session and will take action on a report on admissions from Cigarroa.

While Cigarroa has not yet publically cited a reason for asking Powers to resign, the committee co-chairs said no witnesses should not be removed “absent compelling justification.”

Citing that future testimony may be needed, the co-chairs said the regents should take no action because it could “affect the availability of witnesses.”

The transparency committee has been investigating Hall since June 2013 after state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority through large records request to the University and working with other regents to remove Powers from his position. The committee determined grounds for Hall’s impeachment exist in May and is in the process of developing specific impeachment articles.

Other state legislators have come to Powers’ defense. In an email to the Texan, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said Cigarroa and the regents should reconsider any decision to remove Powers.

“As president, [Powers] has enhanced UT's national stature, reformed the undergraduate curriculum, prioritized diversity, and emphasized excellence in research and teaching,” Zaffirini, who has long been a supporter of Powers, said. “Despite this stellar record of accomplishment – or perhaps because of it – persons advancing an ideological, anti-higher education agenda want nothing more than to see Powers fired.”

            

UT System Regent Wallace Hall prepares to leave after a UT System Board of Regents meeting on April 29.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

In a major step away from the private, behind-the-scenes disagreements among the members of the UT System Board of Regents, board Chairman Paul Foster publicly asked Regent Wallace Hall to resign at the board's meeting Thursday.

Foster addressed Hall directly at the board meeting and said, even though Hall has not violated any board rules or policies, his resignation would be the best thing for the System.

“I do not believe you have violated any current board rules or policy and I do not think a vote on your service is appropriate,” Foster said. “I urge you to take a selfless step to benefit the UT System and resign from the board. … I believe this step would be the most beneficial action you could take at this time.”

The statement comes three days after the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations determined there are grounds for Hall’s impeachment. The committee had been investigating Hall since June 2013  for potentially overstepping his bounds as a regent. The committee is scheduled to meet on May 21 and 22 to determine the nature of specific articles of impeachment.

If the committee votes on specific articles, Hall’s case will go to the full Texas House of Representatives. If a majority of the members of the House approve of the case’s merits, it will go to the Texas Senate, where members will convene as a court to make a final decision. If the Senate concurs with the committee’s recommendation, Hall will be the first non-elected official to be impeached in Texas history.

At the transparency committee meeting on Monday, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, called on the regents to issue a vote of no confidence in Hall.

Despite several regents offering statements on Hall, Foster opted not to take a vote of no confidence Thursday. Hall left the meeting without making any statements.

Regent Jeffrey Hildebrand, who was appointed to the board in February 2013, also called for Hall’s resignation at Thursday’s meeting and said it was time for the board to focus on other matters.

“I think the time has come to move beyond the controversy,” Hildebrand said. “It’s been a controversy that, for far too long, has consumed too much of the board’s resources. … We must move past this controversy and get to the business at hand of moving this System forward that is so vital to the state of Texas."

Foster also addressed the various leaks of communications from executive session meetings that have occurred this past year. In August 2013, Regent Alex Cranberg recorded an executive session meeting and took detailed notes, which were released to the press. Notes that Hall took during an executive session meeting were also released.

“Trust is something that is earned and once violated is very difficult for it to be regained,” Foster said.

Cranberg — along with Gene Powell, regent and vice chairman of the board — defended Hall at Thursday's meeting and said Hall only pursued matters of extreme importance to the System and its institutions.

“We’re all here to advance the best interests of the University of Texas,” Cranberg said. “I don’t think there is any doubt around this table of the commitment and good will of all of the regents. I feel sometimes that there’s been a lot of mischaracterization, exaggeration and incorrect information.”

Foster said he has a set of recommendations he wants to implement on the board in order to combat some of the problems the board has encountered this year, including the appropriate role of a regent and procedures for maintaining the confidentiality of private board discussions. Foster said he will send his recommendations to the regents within the next few weeks so they will have time to review them before taking a vote.

The discussion came after Hall asked the regents to reopen its investigation into the nonprofit UT Law School Foundation, and its connection to UT President William Powers Jr. Hall’s request was voted down 5-3. The UT System conducted a review of the foundation in November 2012, which some regents — including Hall — were not satisfied with because they felt it was not critical enough. The regents then gave the case to the Texas Attorney General’s office to conduct another review.

At Thursday’s meeting, Hall said the attorney general’s office had yet to open its investigation. Foster said the attorney general’s office was waiting on a letter from Hall, but Hall claimed he had given the office all the information he had.

Powers, who was at the meeting, said UT and the System should be looking forward.

“I very much appreciate the chairman’s comments,” Powers said. “It’s a time to move forward and for us to focus on the things the System and the campuses need to do.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio and member of the committee investigating Hall, praised Foster for requesting Hall’s resignation in a statement released after the board meeting.

“The Board’s actions confirm the serious problems that I’ve observed during the Transparency Committee’s investigation and I thank the Board for taking seriously my call for the System to solve this problem themselves,” Martinez Fischer said in the statement. “It is my sincere hope that Regent Hall [will] do the right thing.”

This article has been updated since its original publication. The full name of the committee investigating Hall is the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.

In this week's podcast, Jacob Kerr, Amanda Voeller and guests Madlin Mekelburg and Nicole Cobler discuss the recent on-campus Shared Services protest, which resulted in the arrest of 18 students. They also talk about the latest news surrounding the possible impeachment of Regent Wallace Hall.

 

Seventeen college councils at the University signed a letter to be released Monday asking that Regent Wallace Hall resign from his position at the UT System Board of Regents.

The Senate of College Councils serves as one of the three legislative student organizations advocating academic issues at the University and is made up of 19 active college councils. The two councils from the McCombs School of Business — the Undergraduate Business Council and the Masters in Professional Accounting Council — were the only ones not to sign the letter.

Hall has been accused by state legislators of overstepping his authority as a regent by filing large records requests and working to oust President William Powers Jr. from his position. The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has been conducting the investigation, and a report released earlier this month by the committee’s special counsel Rusty Hardin, found some of Hall’s actions constituted possible criminal violations of the Penal Code and Public Information Act in regards to student privacy.

Senate of College Councils President Geetika Jerath said the letter would continue to show students do not support Hall’s actions. The Senate and Student Government gave Hall a vote of no confidence in November 2013. 

“Since we have closely followed the work of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations as they are investigating the conduct of Regent Hall, we thought this was the perfect time to reaffirm our vote of no confidence,” Jerath said. 

Jerath said she wanted the student voice to be recognized in this matter. The letter will also emphasize senate’s support of Powers.

“We encourage him to resign, and, failing that, we ask Gov. Perry to seek his resignation,” Jerath said. “As student leaders, we have a duty to represent our constituents, to ensure that their interests are protected, and, since we have lost that trust in Regent Wallace Hall, we thought this was the appropriate action that was necessary at this time.”

Andrew Wilson, outgoing president of the Liberal Arts Council, which signed the letter, said he completely supported the letter after observing Hall’s actions throughout the year.

“Regent Hall’s actions were really uncalled for and illegal in some regards, and it’s really just unacceptable on behalf of the students,” Wilson said. “The things that stuck out to me were the laws he broke regarding student privacy.”

Along with senate’s letter, the seven members of the SG Executive Board will also write a letter and introduce legislation calling for Hall’s resignation at the upcoming SG meeting Tuesday.

SG President Kori Rady said he hopes the executive board’s letter and Tuesday’s resolution will continue the momentum of student involvement in the issue.

“We felt like this was important and key for the University and the students,” Rady said. “We want to make sure that people are aware that we know what’s going on, and we don’t want this to continue.”

In this week's podcast, Jacob Kerr, Amanda Voeller and guest Madlin Mekelburg discuss the past week's Civil Rights Summit, which was hosted on the UT campus by the LBJ Library to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. They also talk about the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations' report on Regent Wallace Hall.

In this week's podcast, Jacob Kerr, Amanda Voeller and guests Alyssa Mahoney and Madlin Mekelburg talk about Austin City Council voting to reduce the occupancy limit for unrelated adults in single family houses from six to four. They also discuss a recent email from UT System Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa suggesting Regent Wallace Hall criticized Cigarroa's job performance weeks before the chancellor's resignation and possible revisions to the student leaders' tuition proposal, at the request of the regents.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

In an email to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, Paul Foster, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, suggested Regent Wallace Hall accused Cigarroa of not doing his job weeks before Cigarroa announced his resignation. 

Foster praised Cigarroa in the email, which was originally obtained by The Dallas Morning News, and said “virtually all” of the regents appreciated the work he did as chancellor. 

“I absolutely do not agree with [Hall’s] tactics in trying to pressure you into taking an action that you do not feel is in the best interests of UT-Austin or of the UT System,” Foster said in the email. “It is clear what he hopes to accomplish, but to disparage your reputation in the process is neither fair nor is it appropriate.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, a member of the legislative committee investigating Hall, submitted a letter Friday to State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, after he saw the email, asking them to reconvene to hear testimony from Cigarroa and Foster. 

Flynn and Alvarado are co-chairs of the House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which is trying to determine whether Hall overstepped his duties as a regent and whether he should be recommended for impeachment. Hall filed open records requests with UT for more than 800,000 pages of information and has been accused of conducting a “witch hunt” to oust President William Powers Jr.

Martinez Fischer said Foster’s email raises questions about Cigarroa’s true motive for resigning, and testimony from Cigarroa and Foster could provide the committee with answers. In December 2013, Cigarroa testified in front of the committee and said Hall’s actions were disruptive to the System and caused a drop in morale.

Alvarado said the committee will consider Martinez Fischer’s request, but no decision has been reached about reconvening.  

“I have not talked to the other committee members or my co-chair about [the letter], but it’s something that I hope we will have discussions about,” Alvarado said. “We were hoping our report would be done soon, but, again, we have stressed all along that we are not in a rush. We want to make sure that we’re being thorough and that we don’t leave anything uncovered.” 

In February, Martinez Fischer sent a different letter to the committee co-chairs addressing his concerns about Cigarroa’s true motives for stepping down, especially in light of other System employees resigning — including Barry Burgdorf, who resigned as the System’s general counsel in March 2013.

“I am concerned that, without proper leadership and experienced staff, there will be continued communication and administrative issues between the Board of Regents and the component institutions of the System,” Martinez Fischer wrote in February.

In February, Cigarroa said he is resigning as Chancellor in order to pursue medicine full time. He said the existing tension between the board and Powers did not factor into his decision.

“As it relates to President Powers, this decision is completely separate from that,” Cigarroa said. “I will continue to do my work as chancellor every day until my last day, as I’ve always done, based on facts and performance. I support President Powers, and I will continue to evaluate all presidents every day.”