Monday, the Travis County District Attorney’s office began writing what may be the last chapter in the saga of the battle between UT System Regent Wallace Hall and UT-Austin when they opened an investigation into potential criminal actions committed by Hall during the course of his massive open-records requests to the University.
Now, Hall is not only facing impeachment but also possible criminal charges as the result of overstepping the boundaries of his role as a regent and viewing protected documents.
We’d celebrate, but the office hasn’t yet determined whether they will pursue criminal charges against Hall. And, given the amount of time we’ve all already wasted speaking about Hall’s transgressions when we should have been discussing the serious challenges facing higher education, it’s hard to see even a potential resolution to this struggle as a positive.
Hall’s actions, of course, are only one part of a large ideological battle that began in 2011 when the UT-System Board of Regents appeared to be moving toward a more efficiency-based model for the University. But, since last June, when the Texas House Select Committee on Transparency began investigating Hall after University administrators and legislators raised questions about Hall’s conduct in University affairs, the struggle has largely devolved into a personal battle among Hall and a few members of the legislature, namely, those on the committee investigating him.
University officials claimed that Hall was micromanaging the UT-Austin campus by looking into specific student applications in an effort to uncover unfair student acceptance to the University. Hall also personally investigated UT Law School records after the dean gave himself a forgivable loan, to identify whether anyone else had been involved, specifically UT President William Powers Jr. Hall even began interfering with athletics by starting his own search for a football coach to replace Mack Brown when he contacted Alabama head coach Nick Saben in September. This was despite the fact that hiring a coach falls well with the responsibilities of the University president.
Hall is most infamous, however, for his amateur investigative work. Hall’s look into UT’s various departments included an open-record request to the University amounting to more than 800,000 pages worth of documents. UT eventually denied the request, claiming it was too taxing to accomplish.
The investigation concluded in December and has cost the state more than $400,000 in attorney’s fee alone. That’s on top of the $1 million that Hall’s massive open records requests reportedly cost the University.
Ultimately, the committee issued a report, made public last week, that stated there were grounds for Hall’s impeachment, as well as potential criminal action by Hall for violating student privacy laws. Though the report didn’t make a specific recommendation, on Monday, the committee sent a letter with the report to the Travis County District Attorney’s office.
If that office gets involved, Hall might actually face legal consequences for his actions. The committee plans to reconvene April 23-24, with the Travis County District Attorney present to help decide on further action.
Unsurprisingly, given his established willingness to waste everyone’s time, Hall has refused to resign from his position, even as the case against him intensifies.
In the best-case scenario, the investigation could lead to real consequences and set a precedent for regent conduct going forward. Hopefully, part of that precedent is to behave as if you’re willing to fight for the students before you fight for yourself.