Committee on Transparency

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

On Tuesday, after an exceedingly lengthy deliberation process, a Travis County grand jury declined to indict UT System Regent Wallace Hall, the embattled University official who has embarked on a years-long witch hunt against President William Powers Jr. In a poignant and rare move, however, the grand jury made a specific point of issuing a report that called for Hall’s removal from office. We completely agree.

Given that the bar to convict Hall of many of the accusations levied against him, such as violating student privacy or overstepping his role as a regent, would have been fairly high, we think the grand jury’s decision to no-bill Hall was the right one. Instead, we believe impeachment by the state legislature, which does not have a very high burden of proof, is still — in our opinion — the best option.

In the last couple of years, Hall has requested more than 800,000 pages of documents related to University affairs, in a blatant attempt to dig up dirt against Powers and other University officials. The ludicrous and frivolous records requests cost the University more than $1 million to process. These nefarious acts, as well as the self-destructive and malicious way in which Hall completed his duties, led many to correctly determine him unfit for his prestigious office, including the grand jury tasked with investigating him.

Furthermore, the grand jury aptly noted Hall’s total hypocrisy insofar as his obsession with transparency. While Hall’s antics were ostensibly inspired by a dedication to transparency on the 40 Acres, he has stonewalled investigators, such as the House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, and refused to communicate with the grand jury in a way that left a paper trail.

We reiterate our call for Hall to step down, one notably echoed by Regents Chairman Paul Foster in May of last year. Additionally, we believe that this action — likely the end of the line for Hall’s bout with the criminal justice system — should spur legislators into reopening possible articles of impeachment against the embattled regent.

Theoretically, Hall’s wish has become a reality, as Powers will be stepping down this June. However, given his recent whiny comments about his likely successor — current Provost Gregory Fenves — it would be the height of naiveté to think he would go away. 

Reconvene the Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to reconsider Hall’s impeachment.

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.”