UT System Regent Wallace Hall, who is facing possible impeachment, defended his recent actions on the UT System Board of Regents during a higher education panel with state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, on Saturday.
At the discussion, which was part of The Texas Tribune Festival, Hall questioned the legitimacy of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations’ investigation into his behavior. The committee began investigating Hall after state legislators accused him of micromanaging the University and working with other regents to remove President William Powers Jr. In the past several months, Hall has filed several massive open records requests to UT.
Hall said he felt impeachment proceedings are the wrong response to his inquiries.
“Impeachment is used to protect the public, not to punish an individual,” Hall said. “Do you think I’m protecting the public, or do you think the politicians that are coming after me are protecting the public?”
Hall said he made extensive open records requests because the University would not give him the information he wanted as a regent. He said this was indicative of a larger accountability issue at UT.
“[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.”
When asked about his opinion on Powers, Hall declined to comment and said the question should be answered by System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.
Noting the board lacked “institutional control,” Watson defended the investigation into Hall as an appropriate form of legislative oversight.
“This is important,” Watson said. “This is not political gamesmanship.”
Watson added Hall should not have investigated UT on his own.
“There’s nothing wrong with the board looking into campus admissions, but it should be the board that does it,” Watson said. “I think you lose transparency when an individual regent is doing something.”
Last week, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, told The Daily Texan the regents’ reach lacks definitive boundaries.
“Regents have very, very broad authority to do what they want,” Seliger said. “When you do something that costs the university a substantial amount of money, there needs to be a good reason for it.”
During the legislative session, Seliger introduced a bill to the Senate that would have set guidelines for the regents. Although passed by both the House and Senate, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.
Hall said he was willing to speak with any member of the legislature about his action, but was never contacted by joint oversight committees formed in 2011 and 2013.
The panel also discussed Hall’s inquiry into replacing Texas football head coach Mack Brown in January. Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported Hall and former regent Tom Hicks called Jimmy Sexton, agent to Alabama head coach Nick Saban, to inquire whether his client could replace Brown at UT. Hall and Hicks ended their inquiry after Brown informed Hicks he was not ready to retire.
NCAA rules state the decision to replace the head coach belongs to the institution president. According to the report, Powers was not notified about the call.
At the panel, Hall acknowledged the System should have told Powers, but said it was not his responsibility to do so.
Hall said his legal team should have the ability to cross-examine witnesses during the transparency committee’s investigation. Earlier this month, the committee decided not to allow cross-examination.