UT System Regent Wallace Hall

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

A grand jury investigating UT System Regent Wallace Hall declined to indict him for possible violations of student privacy laws but issued a report calling for his removal from office.

A Special Investigation unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office asked the grand jury in October to consider whether there was probable cause to indict Hall for violating student privacy, failing to disclose material information on his original regent application or exceeding his role as regent with massive open records requests to the University.

Although the grand jury declined to indict Hall, they did take the unusual step of issuing a public report condemning Hall’s actions.

“We have chosen to issue this report because, as citizens, we are appalled at the behavior of the regent subject to the investigation,” the report, issued Tuesday morning, said. “Based on the information we reviewed, we are appalled at the Regent’s unaccountable and abusive behavior.”

Over the course of the last several years, Hall filed requests for more than 800,000 pages of documents as part of personal investigations he launched into UT administrative practices. University administrators said the documents cost more than $1 million to prepare. The report condemned Hall’s conduct when making these requests.

“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. “Based on the size of the University’s open records request staff, his deadlines were unreasonable.”

The grand jury also accused Hall of hypocrisy in his campaign for transparency.

“Regent Hall demonstrated neither accountability nor transparency in his actions,” the report said. “His refusal to speak with the Legislative Committee or the Grand Jury implies a disregard for the transparency and accountability for his actions.”

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo declined to comment on the grand jury’s report. 

In a rare public interview at The Texas Tribune Festival in 2013, Hall defended his actions to state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).

“[UT is] the flagship, and it should be the leader for all of our institutions,” Hall said. “I find that there’s a lack of accountability in a lot of what we see.”

A year later, he again denied any wrongdoing.

“It would be nicer if they closed the file and moved on, but I’ll go through the process,” Hall said at the Tribune Festival in 2014. “I am very comfortable with all the actions that I took with those documents.”

In May, board chairman Paul Foster publicly asked Hall to resign. Although Foster said he did not believe Hall was guilty of violating board rules or policies, he said it would be best for the System if Hall stepped down.

“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.”

In July, after over a year of investigation, a House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations formally censured Hall. The committee had previously determined there were sufficient grounds for Hall’s impeachment but declined to draft specific articles of impeachment in favor of the censure.

At the time, state Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), committee co-chair, said pursuing Hall’s impeachment was 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.”

Hall’s term is set to expire February 2017.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

In a public interview with The Texas Tribune on Thursday, UT System Regent Wallace Hall said the Travis County district attorney will take his case to a grand jury to investigate him for his alleged release of confidential student information.

In a room filled with both supporters and critics, Hall said he takes student privacy seriously and denied committing any acts of wrongdoing.

“It would be nicer if they closed the file and moved on, but I’ll go through the process,” Hall said. “I am very comfortable with all the actions that I took with those documents.”

In April, the district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit opened a criminal investigation. Thursday, after the event, a district attorney spokesman confirmed the case against Hall will be brought before a grand jury in the coming weeks. 

The allegations stem from Hall’s personal investigations into the University, from which he brought up issues with the University’s admissions process. In July 2013, after going through thousands of University documents, Hall found two emails that led to a System inquiry into legislative influence in the University’s admissions. While the inquiry found no systematic wrongdoing, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa commissioned an external investigation into admissions in July.

Hall said the primary reason he conducted his investigation and announced his findings to the Board of Regents was because of his desire for transparency in the admissions process.

“If we want the senators and House representatives to be able to get people into universities, let’s just be up front about it,” Hall said. “That’s what I’m pushing for.”

After state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority, Hall became the subject of a House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations investigation in June 2013. A year and two months later, the committee censured Hall, citing, among other actions, his alleged disclosure of personal student information to his lawyers. 

“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.”

Paul Hastings, one of the event attendees and a senior at Thomas Edison State College, believes Hall is innocent and started making and selling pro-Wallace Hall T-shirts with slogans like “Hook ’em Wallace” and “Keep Calm and Wallace On.”

Hastings said his family is from Thailand, where people need political connections to receive basic needs, such as health care, instead of just for getting into college. Hastings said in a country like the U.S., which is supposed to stand for truth and justice, Hall should be regarded as a hero.

“Wallace Hall is being reprimanded for doing the right thing,” Hastings said.

Hall also believes in his own innocence. During their discussion Thursday, he told Evan Smith, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, that since the committee’s decision in August, he has continued to be “unabated” in conducting his System governing duties.

“I certainly don’t feel in any way diminished,” Hall said. “If the transparency committee truly thought that I had violated the law, shouldn’t they have brought articles of impeachment against me?”

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

While a state legislative committee discussed drafting articles of impeachment against UT System Regent Wallace Hall in exectuive session, Gov. Rick Perry issued a statement in support of Hall .

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has been investigating Hall since June 2013 for potentially overstepping his authority as a regent. State legislators have accused Hall conducting a “witch hunt” to remove President William Powers Jr. from his position through large records requests.

Perry said Hall’s actions are beneficial to the System and the state of Texas.

"Wallace Hall should be commended for his persistence — in the face of overwhelming opposition from bureaucrats — in trying to ensure the institutions of higher education under his purview are operating effectively, efficiently and within the law,” Perry said in a statement. “Hall is doing exactly what every regent and every appointee in the State of Texas should be doing: asking tough questions, gathering facts and searching for the truth.”

If the transparency 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 Senate, where members will convene as a court to make a final decision.

“Today we will begin formally drafting potential articles of impeachment for the committee’s future consideration,” state Rep. Carol Alvarado D-Houston and committee co-chair, said. “This is an extensive process.”

Before going into executive session, the committee heard testimony from House Parliamentarian Chris Griesel and Jeff Archer, interim assistant executive director of the Texas Legislative Council. Griesel and Archer discussed procedures for impeachment.

“There are no rules for what an article of impeachment has to look like,” Archer said.

If the Senate ultimately approves Hall’s impeachment, Hall would be the first non-elected official to be impeached in Texas history.

During the meeting, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, asked Barry McBee, UT System vice chancellor for government relations, to provide a written response detailing what level of criminal investigation or charges would prompt members of the Board of Regents to determine Hall unfit to serve.

The Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit has opened an investigation into allegations produced in the report published by the special counsel to the transparency committee that Hall violated privacy laws in distributing private student information.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Update (May 20, 12:32 p.m.): In the letter, released on Tuesday by attorney Allan Van Fleet, Hall crticized Chairman Paul Foster's handling of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations investigation and the decision to ask for his resignation.

"The result is that you have used your position to participate in a campaign that is intended to impugn my reputation," Hall said.  "You have also allowed a small group of legislators to interfere in the Board's official opperations."

Citing letters sent to the transparency committee by System outside counsel Phillip Hilder and Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa in early 2014, Hall said the committee has found no evidence of wrongdoing on his part. A report released in April by Rusty Hardin, special counsel to the transparency committee, determine Hall had likely committed impeachable offenses.

After Tuesday's UT System Board of Regents meeting, Foster said he read the letter and will not pursue the issue any further.

"I pledge to work closely with him, as I have in the past," Foster said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's history."

Original story (May 19): UT System Regent Wallace Hall said he will not resign in a letter to Paul Foster, Board of Regents chairman, according to Hall’s attorney Allan Van Fleet.

Foster publicly asked Hall to resign at a regents meeting on Thursday. A few days before on May 12, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations determined grounds for Hall’s impeachment exist in a 7-1 vote. The committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday and Thursday to develop specific articles of impeachment.

In a statement, Hall said he has been working to point out wrongdoing at System's institutions.

"Will the public ever know the truth about problems in our institutions if legislators are allowed to impeach Board members who reveal them?" Hall said.

The committee began investigating Hall in June 2013 after state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority as a regent and seeking the removal of President William Powers Jr. from his position.

According to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, Foster has not yet received the letter. The regents are schedule to meet via teleconference on Tuesday.

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

Updated (2:56 p.m.): In a statement distributed by attorney Allan Van Fleet, Regent Wallace Hall said his impeachment would not solve the problems he has identified at UT System institutions.

"When a Board encounters problems, coverups, and intransigence at a taxpayer-funded institution, is the proper response to hold those who are responsible accountable, or to impeach the board member?" Hall said in his statement. “If the Transparency Committee desires transparency, it should not seek ways to interfere with investigations that would expose improper conduct at the University of Texas."

Hall said his role as a regent is to protect the individuals at the various UT institutions.

"My efforts as a regent are to serve the interests of our great educational institutions, the students, faculty, and staff who make them great, and the taxpayers who fund them, not to appease a privileged class who abuse them," Hall said.

Original story: In a 7-1 vote Monday, the House transparency committee voted there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall’s impeachment. The committee will meet on May 21 and 22 to try and 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 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.

Rep. Carol Alvarado, committee co-chair and D-Houston, said Hall’s actions warrant extreme actions.

“Impeachment is an extraordinary tool to use in extraordinary circumstances,” Alvarado said. “I view Regent Hall’s conduct as extraordinary for an appointee.”

Rep. Dan Flynn committee co-chair and R-Canton, said he encouraged Hall to resign, and noted that if Hall were to resign before May 21, the committee would not have to convene.

The only committee member to vote against grounds of impeachment, Rep. Charles Perry R-San Antonio, said he did not feel all sides had been provided adequate chance to explain themselves.

“I think UT has lost some of its swagger,” Perry said. “I believe my opinion may have been different if I had heard testimony from all sides.”

After the committee voted, Rep. Lyle Larson R-San Antonio issued a request for Governor Rick Perry to ask for Hall’s resignation. Larson said he has asked Perry three times previously, with no response.  

"I’ve been contacted by just about every chairman of the UT system for the last four decades, all indicating that something needs to be done,” Larson said. “What this has cost us in recruiting deans, in recruiting a new chancellor, and the monetary impact…like [Martinez Fischer] said, there have been opportunities for the UT system to intervene.”

Senate of College Councils president Geetika Jerath said she felt the decision reflects the best interests of the University.

“We made our voice very clear in our letter to the governor,” Jerath said. “That’s definitely in line with what, as Senate, we have come up with in our letter, and so I’m pleased to see they agree.”

The House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has investigated Hall since July 2013 for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent. He has been accused by some members of the state legislature, including state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie,  as conducting a “witch-hunt” against Powers.

Hall was appointed to a six-year term on the Board of Regents by Gov. Rick Perry in February 2011. Before his appointment, Hall served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which works with legislators and education officials to enforce various education initiatives.

Tensions between Powers and Hall have been ongoing since 2011, when Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign after concerns arose regarding the foundation's forgivable loan program. Sager awarded himself a $500,000 loan through the program.

Though Powers said he was not aware of the forgivable loan Sager awarded himself, Hall filed open records requests which yielded roughly 40 boxes of materials and claimed he had evidence Powers was aware of the forgivable loan but chose not to take action. Powers has repeatedly denied these claims.

After state legislators accused Hall of micromanaging the University and working with other regents to remove Powers from his position, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus asked the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations in June 2013 to investigate the actions of executive appointees and recommend articles of impeachment if necessary. The committee subsequently began investigating Hall.

In August 2013, the committee hired Houston attorney Rusty Hardin as its special counsel. Based on recommendations from Hardin, the transparency committee decided in September to not allow cross-examination of witnesses by Hall’s attorneys during the upcoming hearings in the investigation.

According to testimony from Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer at UT, Hall filed open records requests for over 800,000 pages of information from UT. System officials, including outgoing UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, have said the actual number of pages is closer to 100,000.

Last November, the transparency committee heard testimony from Francie Frederick, general counsel for the Board of Regents. Frederick said Hall was mistakenly given access to private student information through his wide ranging open records requests.

In her testimony, Frederick said regents can have access to information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act if they have a valid, job-related reason to see it.

In December, Powers and Cigarroa testified on subpoena in front of the committee. Powers said Hall’s open records requests cost the University well over $1 million, but insisted he could not provide an exact number at the time. Both Cigarroa and Powers testified Hall’s actions were a distraction to UT and the System.

At the request of the committee, Philip Hilder, outside counsel to the System, submitted a report to the transparency committee in January, stating there was “no credible evidence” Hall violated any state laws regarding the release of data. In his report, Hilder said Hall requested all information protected by FERPA be redacted from the documents, but UT failed to completely remove all potentially problematic information when providing Hall with the requested documents.

Hardin prepared a report on the committee’s investigation which concluded Hall likely committed impeachable offenses. The report lists a variety of basis for Hall’s impeachment, including his handling of confidential student information, his treatment of UT-Austin and UT System officials and his large number of open records requests. The report also suggests Hall attempted to interfere with testimony.

Following the release of Hardin’s report, the Travis County district attorney's Public Integrity Unit opened an investigation into allegations that Hall violated privacy laws in distributing private student information obtained in one of his open records requests.

The Texas House committee investigating UT System Regent Wallace Hall will meet May 12 to vote on whether there are grounds to recommend Hall’s impeachment. 

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston and co-chair of the committee, said they will meet on May 13 as well, if more discussion is needed. 

Hall is under investigation for potentially overstepping his bounds as a regent and has been accused by some lawmakers of conducting a “witch hunt” to oust President William Powers Jr. The House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has been investigating Hall since July 2013 and has heard testimony from various UT and UT System officials, but not from Hall himself. 

The committee members met in executive session at their hearing Thursday and discussed the report, produced by special counsel to the committee Rusty Hardin and which indicates Hall likely committed impeachable offenses. 

Before going into executive session, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, asked Barry McBee, UT System vice chancellor for government relations, to determine the availability of Paul Foster, charmain of the UT System Board of Regents, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Pedro Reyes, the System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, to speak with the committee as a whole or to speak with him privately.

The house transparency committee investigating the actions of UT System Regent Wallace Hall canceled a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations will still have its scheduled hearing Thursday at 1 p.m.

The transparency committee has been investigating Hall since July 2013 for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent. Some state legislators have accused Hall of overstepping his duties as a regent and conducting a “witch-hunt” to oust President William Powers Jr. According to testimony at a committee hearing in October, Hall filed open records requests for more than 800,000 pages of information from UT.

The final report from the special counsel to the committee indicates Hall likely committed impeachable offenses during his time as regent. The report states Hall manipulated the house investigation and coerced witnesses. The report also alleges Hall mishandled private student information and potentially violated state privacy laws. These claims have been referred to Travis County prosecutors.

According to a Texas Ethics Commission report, originally obtained by the Texas Tribune on Tuesday, State Rep. Charles Perry, a member of the transparency committee, received $2,500 in campaign contributions in December from Accountability First — a political action committee Hall has supported financially in the past.

On Monday, 17 college councils at UT signed a letter asking Hall to resign from his position as regent.

Allegations that UT System Regent Wallace Hall mishandled private student information and potentially violated state privacy laws have been referred to Travis County prosecutors, according to reports from the Austin American-Statesman. 

These allegations were presented in the final report from the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations. 

According to the Statesman, the referral was made by Rod Welsh, the House sergeant-at-arms, in a letter to District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and County Attorney David Escamilla, dated Friday. A letter from the co-chairs of the transparency committee, included in Welsh’s letter, said the referral was necessary based on the findings of the committee’s investigation.

The report, compiled by Rusty Hardin, special counsel to the committee, indicated Hall likely committed impeachable offenses throughout his time as a regent.

The committee is investigating Hall for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent and conducting what some legislators have called a “witch hunt” against President William Powers Jr. 

At a committee hearing in November, Francie Frederick, general counsel to the Board of Regents, said regents can have access to information protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act if they have a job-related reason to do so. Frederick said Hall gained access to a chain of emails with protected information he should not have been allowed to see. 

Horns Up: Committee says Hall may have broken the law

According to a 176-page draft report obtained by the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle, UT System Regent Wallace Hall likely committed impeachable offenses — including abusing his power, leaking confidential information in an attempt to silence critics in the state legislature and attempting to coerce UT administrators to alter their testimony in committee hearings — and may even have violated state and federal law. The report was drafted by a House committee tasked with investigating Hall and his potential misconduct. While we can’t say that the report’s accusations come as much of  a surprise, Horns Up to the possibility that the Wallace Hall saga may soon come to an end, and the University administrators can refocus on actual student related issues. That way, we’ll finally be able to focus on something more worthwhile.

 

Horns Down: EEOC complaints on the rise in Texas

According to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report, Texas’ number of workplace discrimination and harassment complaints has increased in recent months. The Frisco Enterprise reported that the commission received 9,068 harassment and discrimination charges last year alone, which is an increase of 2 percent from the year before. While Texas’ incident reports increased, nationally, the number of harassments decreased by 6 percent last year. According to the commission, any unwelcome action based on factors including race, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability can be classified as harassment in the workplace. Horns Down to this unfortunate increase; it’s definitely not a positive outcome of the Texas workforce.

Update (1:16 p.m.): Rusty Hardin, special counsel to the committee, said the draft of the report was sent to state Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston , the co-chairs of the committee, last Tuesday.  Hardin said the other members of the committee received the report Friday.

Hardin said the members of the committee will review the draft of the report and will have a discussion with Hardin about any changes they see fit before the report is released to the public.

According to Hardin, the contract between his law firm, Rusty Hardin & Associates, LLP, and the transparency committee expired on March 31.

Original: A draft of the report prepared by the House transparency committee indicates that UT System Regent Wallace Hall likely committed impeachable offenses during his time as a member of the UT System Board of Regents, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle.

The draft of the report, obtained by the San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle, states Hall released student information in violation of federal privacy acts. The report states he manipulated the House investigation and coerced witnesses.

The draft of the report — written by Rusty Hardin, general counsel for the committee, and his law firm — said Hall continued to undermine the reputation of UT and President William Powers Jr., even after the committee asked him to stop, according to reports from the San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle.  

According to the San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle the report includes copies of emails Hall sent to members of the board stating Powers' termination would be easy to overcome.

The House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has been investigating Hall since July 2013 for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent. He has been accused by some members of the state legislature as conducting a “witch-hunt” against Powers. 

According to testimony from Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer at UT, Hall filed open records requests for over 800,000 pages of information from UT. System officials, including outgoing UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, have said the actual number of pages is closer to 100,000.

Last November, the transparency committee heard testimony from Francie Frederick, general counsel for the Board of Regents. Frederick said Hall was mistakenly given access to private student information through his wide ranging open records requests.

In her testimony, Frederick said regents can have access to information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act if they have a valid, job-related reason to see it. According to the draft of the report, the committee determined Hall did not have the appropriate reasons for seeking this information.

Philip Hilder, outside counsel to the System, submitted a report to the transparency committee in January, stating there was “no credible evidence” Hall violated any state laws regarding the release of data. In his report, Hilder said Hall requested all information protected by FERPA be redacted from the documents, but UT failed to completely remove all potentially problematic information when providing Hall with the requested documents.

Tensions between Powers and members of the board have been ongoing since 2011, when Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign after concerns arose regarding the foundation's forgivable loan program. Powers said he was unaware Sager awarded himself a $500,000 loan through the program, while Hall claimed he had evidence Powers was aware of the forgivable loan but chose not to take action. Powers has denied these claims.

In Feburary, Cigarroa announced he will be resigning as chancellor. Cigarroa said his decision to resign had nothing to do with the existing tensions between Powers and the board, although an email sent to Cigarroa by board Chairman Paul Foster suggested Hall accused Cigarroa of not doing his job weeks before Cigarroa announced his resignation.