UT School of Law

When Abigail Fisher sued the University on the grounds that it violated the 14th Amendment by denying her admission because she is white, long-time administrators may have felt a sense of deja vu. Though federal cases involving the University are rare, this is not the first time a white student has sued the University over a denial of admission.

In 1992, Cheryl Hopwood, along with a few other white students, filed a lawsuit against the UT School of Law, claiming they were denied admission in favor of minority students who were less qualified. 

Before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals released its decision in 1996, the law school based admissions on what was called a Texas Index (TI) score, where applicants were given a rating based on their GPAs, LSAT scores and other qualifications. 

The Fifth Circuit found that because the TI ranges acceptable for minorities represented a significant advantage  for some minority applicants over white applicants, the law school’s admission policy was not justifiable. 

The court’s decision was the first decision to strike down an affirmative action program after guidelines for such programs were established in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. In the Bakke case, the Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action policies in admissions must represent a compelling state interest to create diversity and that the policies must be narrowly tailored to this objective. 

In response to the Fifth Circuit’s decision, the University adopted the Top 10 Percent rule — which is still in place today — to allow minority students to have a chance to be accepted to UT by graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class. 

The Daily Texan ran a point-counterpoint editorial piece on March 19, 1996, arguing the benefits and downfalls of both proposed legislation banning any consideration of race.

Marisol Espinosa, a journalism senior at the time, argued that affirmative action is meant to overcome racial discrimination by helping qualified minorities gain access to jobs and education experiences they would otherwise be excluded from. Espinosa said opponents of affirmative action often assume increased diversity comes at the cost of lower standards. 

“This complaint assumes the white male is naturally deserving of the job,” Espinosa said. “There also seems to be the assumption that the minority candidate is inherently less qualified.”

The counterpoint argument came from K. Danial Williamson, then an English senior. Williamson believed that affirmative action emphasized racial differences, rather than ameliorate their effects. “We have in simple language an elegant truth that has evaded many of our fellow citizens, politicians and practically all of higher education … our misnamed ‘affirmative action’ programs are simply racism and therefore must be abandoned,” Williamson wrote.

Williamson said he agreed the country had major racial problems to deal with but argued affirmative action was nothing but “political bait.”

“Giving a generous break on LSAT scores for black applicants to Harvard Law School would not remedy the fact that one out of three young black men is under the supervision of the criminal justice system,” he wrote. 

On Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments for Fisher v. University of Texas after it was sent back to the circuit court by the U.S. Supreme Court over the summer. In many ways, the facts and the characters have changed, but the arguments at the heart of it are largely unchanged.

In honor of an attorney who helped exonerate him, former death row inmate Anthony Graves established a scholarship earlier this month in the UT School of Law named for Nicole Casarez.

Casarez is a UT alumna, an attorney and a journalism professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Her work, along with the work of her team of investigative journalism students, led to a reversal of the charges against Graves in 2010.

Graves created the “Nicole B. Casarez Endowed Scholarship in Law” at UT as a way to thank her. Casarez and her husband Reuben Casarez both graduated from UT in 1979.

“Anthony Graves worked with Nicole’s husband to keep the scholarship private,” said Samantha Youngblood, communications coordinator at the law school. “He wanted to surprise her.”

Youngblood said Graves held a dinner party earlier this month where he announced the scholarship to Casarez.

“We wanted to keep it a secret until Nicole found out about it as well,” Youngblood said. “So we didn’t distribute a news release about it or anything like that.”

The details of the scholarship have not been decided as of yet. The first scholarship from the fund will be awarded in fall 2014 to a “deserving law student.” It will most likely be an annual scholarship, according to Youngblood.

“Our development team is working on the specifics,” Youngblood said. “And, of course, we’re incredibly grateful for his generosity.”

Complying with requests from several Texas lawmakers, the UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted Thursday to release documents requested by legislators and allow the Texas Attorney General’s Office to conduct an investigation into the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation

The decisions came after several months of tension between the board, the Texas Legislature and UT President William Powers Jr. Regent Printice Gary acknowledged the tensions while speaking after the decisions were announced. 

“I think it is important we acknowledge that the reality of the controversy surrounding the Board of Regents and the Legislature has unfortunately and inadvertently cast a shadow on the University of Texas System,” Gary said. “Let’s remember that the Board of Regents is here to serve the System.”

Last week, board Chairman Gene Powell inquired to the attorney general’s office about the legality of withholding information after state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed a broad open records request as a private citizen instead of in her capacity as a legislator. 

Though there is no specific deadline by which regents must respond to legislators’ open records requests, according to the Texas Public Information Act, governing bodies must handle all requests from private citizens in good faith and produce requested information “promptly.” If this cannot be done within 10 days, governmental bodies must recognize this in writing and set a date and hour when the records will be available. Alternatively, if there is a desire to withhold information, the governing body has 10 days to write to the attorney general asking for a decision.

Powell’s move spurred intense criticism from several legislators and prompted a three-page statement from Zaffirini. In it, she said she had heard the chairman’s behavior compared to that of former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

The board also reconsidered its March 20 vote to continue an external investigation of the relationship between the law school and its foundation. The investigation was criticized by legislators and individual regents themselves. Regents Steven Hicks and Robert Stillwell both referred to the external investigation as “beating a dead horse,” and Stillwell said the initial investigation, conducted by outgoing System general counsel Barry Burgdorf, was sufficient.

Powell maintained that the additional review of the Foundation is a necessary move but said he felt confident in the attorney general’s ability to conduct it.

“If I’d been here on the day of the [4-3] vote, I’d have been the 5th vote to continue the investigation,” Powell said.

In February, the Legislature relaunched the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency for the purpose of investigating regents’ alleged micromanagement of the University.

Committee members expressed relief and skepticism Thursday about the regents’ decisions to disclose documents and allow the Attorney General to investigate the foundation. 

Zaffirini said she was glad regents took lawmakers’ suggestions regarding the investigation into the foundation.

“However, I do think it’s a waste of time and effort and waste of state resources, because it’s been investigated again and again,” Zaffirini said. “I’m expecting the same results from the Attorney General’s investigation.”

Committee Co-Chairman and State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he was pleased to see regents make both decisions and he expects regents to supply information requested by lawmakers within the next few days.

“To me, it’s two steps in the right direction,” Branch said.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the decision to disclose documents constituted the first step in ending conflict between regents, UT and the Legislature that has arisen during this legislative session.

“To be clear, this isn’t the end of this process, nor does it complete all of the board’s responsibilities to legislators and to Texans,” Watson said. “But, I do hope it’s a healthy, positive start.”

Hours after the board meeting, the Texas Senate approved a bill to limit powers of university boards of regents over individual institutions within university systems.

The bill, filed by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Senate Higher Education Committee chairman, was filed in response to the UT System Board of Regents’ alleged micromanagement of UT, specifically President William Powers Jr.

The House of Representatives must now vote on the bill, which would limit regents from “interfering” in the daily operations of universities under systems’ purview. It would also prohibit regents who were appointed when the Legislature is not in session from voting until nominees have appeared before the Senate Nominations Committee.

Chairman Wm. Eugene “Gene” Powell (left) and Regent Robert L. Stillwell (right) hear various proposals, including one for the new engineering building, during a UT system board meeting in January. The board approved the potential use of tuition revenue bonds.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents voted unanimously today to release all documents requested by state legislators via open records requests, rather than attempting to withhold them as chairman Gene Powell had inquired about this month. The Board also voted unanimously to ask the Texas attorney general to take over an external review of the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation.

Powell inquired about the legality of withholding information after state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed a broad open records request as a private citizen instead of in her capacity as a legislator. Though there is no specific deadline by which legislator’s open records requests must be responded to, according to the Texas Public Information Act, governing bodies must handle all requests from private citizens in good faith and produce requested information “promptly.” If this cannot be done in 10 days, the governmental body must recognize this in writing and set a date and hour when the records will be available. Alternatively, if there is a desire to withhold information, the governing body has 10 days to write to the attorney general asking for a decision.

In a letter to Abbott, Powell said the information requests might be harmful to the System’s ability to do its job.

“These requests have proved potentially damaging to the ability of the System’s governing board to fulfill properly its statutory and fiduciary duties,” Powell said in the letter.

Powell’s move spurred intense criticism from several legislators and prompted a fiery three-page statement from Zaffirini in which she said she had heard Powell’s behavior compared to that of former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

“While the specific regents and personnel involved in this response process have employed countless delay tactics to date, this one is not only the most innovative, but also the most outrageous,” Zaffirini said in the statement. “Perhaps [the Regents] do not understand the difference between ‘inconvenient’ and ‘confidential’...my only conclusion is that they have something to hide.”

Another issue at the center of today’s meeting was the board’s recent 4-3 vote to continue an external investigation of the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School foundation. The investigation, estimated to cost $500,000, was criticized by legislators as well as individual Regents themselves. Regents Steven Hicks and Robert Stillwell both referred to the external investigation as “beating a dead horse,” and Stillwell said the initial investigation, conducted by outgoing System general counsel Barry Burgdorf, was sufficient.

Regent Alex Cranberg defended the System’s decision and said he believed there were flaws in Burgdorf’s investigation.

“[The investigation] was so inadequate that I have heard complaints of it being a cover up,” Cranberg wrote in an email to the Texas Tribune.

Legislators also criticized the vote: In a letter signed by 18 state senators and sent to Powell, the senators asked the board to seek the attorney general’s assistance if regents insisted on continuing what the senators called “an unnecessary probe.”

Powell maintained that the additional review of the Foundation is a necessary move, but said he felt confident in the attorney general’s ability to conduct it.

"If I'd been here on the day of the [4-3] vote, I'd have been the 5th vote to continue the investigation,” Powell said.

Aerospace engineering senior Doug Parker, dressed up as Saint Alec, is fed cake in the lobby of the Engineering Teaching Center II on campus on
Monday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

It’s not every day students can meet a saint and take pictures with him. But on Monday, UT students had the opportunity to meet Alec, the patron saint of the Cockrell School of Engineering, to celebrate his 105th birthday as mascot of the school. 

“Alec is a really important tradition,” said Marcela Defaria, director of Friends of Alec, which is the engineering school’s fundraising arm and host of the event. According to Defaria, the annual giving fund began in 1974, but the story of Alec goes back before that. 

In 1908, several UT engineering students decided to make a holiday out of April Fool’s Day. Their solution was to place a statue of a wooden man in front of the main building, where they gave a speech that traced his ancestry back to building monuments such as the pyramids, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Wall of China and more. The next year, the statue was officially christened Alexander Frederick Claire, the patron saint of UT engineers, and would later be known as Alec for short.  

“It’s important for everyone to have a sense of tradition,” Defaria said. “It brought a sense of community to the students.”

Over the years, students from the UT School of Law would periodically kidnap Alec from the engineering school, thus sparking a friendly rivalry between the two schools. Today, Alec continues to be recognized as the symbol of the engineering school.

“I think that it’s important to know what Alec represents; both the engineering school and connecting with the alumni,” social work senior Monique Robinson said. 

Robinson said she has been working at Friends of Alec for over three years. She said at first her job focused on calling UT alumni and asking for donations to the engineering school, though she now serves as a manager for the giving fund. 

“It’s important for the alumni to give back to the program they were involved in,” Robinson said.

According to Robinson, Friends of Alec raised $1.5 million for the engineering school last year. Defaria said money raised helps fund scholarships for students, departmental projects and faculty research. The giving fund also keeps alumni up-to-date on building projects, professors and students, Defaria said. 

Aerospace engineering senior Douglas Parker said he has dressed up in an Alec costume for three years in a row. Parker said while he gets a lot of odd looks, the event is a chance to have a day of play and raise awareness for Friends of Alec.

“The organization is great,” Parker said. “This is an opportunity to get the word out to the school.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 as: Students celebrate St. Alec 

Regents will meet to discuss Law School Foundation, direct Powers not to delete emails

The UT System Board of Regents will hold a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss and possibly take action on issues regarding the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School foundation. The board will also discuss “the financial management and use” by UT of funds to support the law school and relevant legal issues after hearing a recommendation from the Audit, Compliance, and Management Review Committee. 

In December 2011, President William Powers Jr. asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to step down from his position after an open records request from law school faculty revealed he obtained $500,000 in forgivable personal loans from the UT Law School Foundation. 

Barry Burgdorf, the UT System vice chancellor and general counsel who resigned earlier this month, authored the System’s report on the incident. The report found the lack of transparency in the forgivable personal loan program meant it “suffer[ed] infirmities that make it inappropriate for a public university in Texas.”

Last week, Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, emailed Powers directing him not to delete emails of any time from electronic devices or computers in or accessed by the Office of the President over the course of the pending audit review of the Law School Foundation. The email also directed the offices of the provost, executive vice president for business affairs and vice president for legal affairs not to delete emails, and mentioned Sager, assistant dean Kimberly Biar, and Glenn Woelfel, senior financial analyst for the law school.

Powers’ spokesman Gary Susswein described this move as “unusual.”

Dr. Eric White presents the Tarlton Law Library’s earliest printed books during the ninth annual rare book lecture in the the School of Law Thursday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

The UT School of Law houses some of the oldest and rarest printed books in the world. Eric White, a curator for the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University, discussed several of the books in detail on Thursday in a lecture hosted by the law school’s Tarlton Law Library

White explained the processes behind the early years of mechanized printing in Europe in the latter half of the 15th century. He also identified the unique aspects of individual books in the library from that era.

“Tarlton Law Library’s holdings are important for research,” White said. 

The first printed books were produced when the German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg printed copies of the Latin Bible in Mainz, Germany, during the 1450s. Gutenberg’s method of printing, including the invention of the printing press and movable type, was so popular that by 1500, 10 million books had been printed in Europe, White said. 

White’s lecture focused on the typefaces and histories behind specimens of 15th-century printed books, and his talk highlighted several books from Tarlton Law Library’s rare book collection. White also talked about the printing of early law books in the 15th century — several of which can be found in their original form at the library.

“Tarlton’s earliest books are useful specimens for early 15th-century printings,” White said. “There is much for the serious researcher of Northern European law to study here.” 

White’s talk was the ninth annual lecture of the library’s Rare Book Lecture Series. The lecture was organized by Elizabeth Haluska-Rausch, director of special collections at the library. Rausch said the lecture series was created to promote the library’s book collection. 

“The early history of the printed book is integral to understanding the intellectual history of the early modern period,” Haluska-Rausch said. “Books produced with movable type constituted a genuine communication revolution.” 

Information studies graduate student Aizul Ortega said she attended the lecture Thursday because of her interest in preservation studies. Ortega said she was surprised by the number of rare books that can be found at UT. 

“They really interest me,” she said. “I want to know as much as I can about them.”

Ortega said studying antique books like those presented by White allows people to see where knowledge has originated.

“It’s part of our history,” Ortega said. “It teaches how people would think [during the 15th century] and how we have evolved from those thought processes and what we have in common with them.”

Published on March 1, 2013 as "Curator gives rare-book lecture". 

The UT System Board of Regents took nearly one year to review and address disclosures about loans to the faculty from a foundation established to support the UT School of Law. In December 2011, those disclosures forced the resignation of former UT School of Law Dean Larry Sager.

The time the regents devoted to the issue appears well spent and, in the best possible outcome, their efforts could lead to more and welcomed transparency about UT faculty compensation.

According to a report released the week before Thanksgiving drafted by UT System Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Barry Burgdorf,  in 2009 the University administration, due to budgeting limits, denied Sager a raise he had requested. Burgdorf’s report states that Sager then approached Robert Grable, then president of the UT Law School Foundation, about receiving a $500,000 forgivable loan. Subsequently, the foundation’s executive committee, which oversees the organization’s $111 million endowment, approved Sager’s loan. The foundation’s executive board also approved a slew of others loans to law school faculty members. Sager, who is still a faculty member of the law school, said through a spokesman in a statement issued following Burgdorf’s report that he did not deliberately try to avoid University oversight. But Burgdorf’s report concludes that flaws existed in the approval and reporting of loans from the foundation to the law school faculty members.

So far, the regents in their response to Burgdorf’s review have been careful not to insult the foundation while simultaneously endorsing Burgdorf’s conclusions, which the Office of the Attorney General also supported.

In a carefully crafted statement issued on Nov. 13, the regents wrote, “We express gratitude to the Law School Foundation which has been cooperative and helpful throughout this process. It plays a significant role in supporting the goals of the UT School of Law.” After a Nov. 15 meeting, Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell issued a written statement that said, “Let me first acknowledge the importance of the extraordinary support provided by UT affiliated foundations and the many additional foundations and nonprofit corporations, as well as the work of countless volunteers working with these entities.  We are grateful to the individuals who participate on these important boards and who contribute their time and generous financial support to advance the missions of UT institutions.”

But Powell’s statement also added that Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has asked UT administrators “to identify and cease any impermissible direct payments, benefits, or reimbursements to UT employees for their work on behalf of UT from external sources and to assure that external support is not provided in the form of gifts targeted to specific individuals.” Powell also announced the establishment of an advisory task force on the relationship of UT System institutions to UT-affiliated foundations, which will be chaired by Regent Brenda Pejovich, who will be joined by Regents Bobby Stillwell and Wallace Hall, and, among others, UT and Attorney General representatives.

With the regents, the University administration and the AG’s office now somewhat focused on how and when deans may pass out goodies from foundations to faculty members, we believe transparency — apparently long-needed — will enter into the equation. Transparency, when it comes to University governance, invariably represents a step forward.

Last year, Larry Sager, former dean of UT School of Law, loaned himself $500,000 from a private fund used to sweeten employment offers. When a group of disgruntled law school professors filed an open records request that disclosed Sager’s loan to himself and the whole forgivable loan operation, UT President William Powers Jr. asked Sager to step down from his post, and big questions were raised about the methods our law school employs to compete with higher-paying private institutions when recruiting faculty members. While UT may have one of the best law schools in the country, it’s also a public institution and cannot, in trying to compete with private universities, compromise its responsibility to be transparent. Barry Burgdorf, UT System vice chancellor and general counsel wrote in a recent report, “The idea of Dean Sager’s $500,000 forgivable personal loan was his. Obviously, this lack of transparency and accountability is unacceptable and, at a minimum, it creates an impression of self-dealing that cannot be condoned.”

Burgdorf’s report, which the UT System released on Tuesday, determined that the forgivable loan program is not illegal but “inappropriate.” Burgdorf looked into the relationship between the University of Texas Law School Foundation and the University following Sager’s resignation.

Burgdorf’s report found that the forgivable personal loan program began in 2003, while Powers was serving as dean of the law school prior to his appointment as University president. The forgivable personal loan program expanded under Sager “in response to the departure of various law school faculty members ... The report recognized the foundation’s significant role in the School of Law’s development helping supplement faculty compensation and providing adequate funding to retain the top faculty, but determined it inappropriate for a public institution to grant forgivable personal loans to faculty through an independent foundation.” We applaud Burgdorf’s call for sunlight when it comes to the law school because, in the words of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, it is the best disinfectant.

The UT schools of business and law have developed a streak for enrolling and graduating Hispanic students and employing a significant percent of Hispanic faculty, according to a new ranking by an online magazine.

The UT School of Law and the Red McCombs School of Business MBA program placed first and fourth, respectively, for Hispanic inclusiveness in a ranking by hispanicbusiness.com, which ranks schools on their diversity practices based on Hispanic enrollment, faculty and degrees awarded. The magazine also considers an institution’s plans to increase Hispanic enrollment. This is the second year UT’s School of Law took first place and the 14th year McCombs ranked in the top five. According to the website, out of the total 534 MBA students enrolled, 33 are Hispanic, making its enrollment 6.2 percent. Out of its 273 total degrees awarded, the business school gave 21 to Hispanics. Out of a total 100 MBA faculty, three are Hispanic. The School of Law has 170 Hispanic students enrolled out of a total 1,130, making its enrollment 15 percent. Out of 386 degrees awarded, 60 were awarded to Hispanics. Five of the 92 full-time faculty are Hispanic.

Matt Turner, marketing researcher for McCombs, said he gave hispanicbusiness.com the data used to rate the business school. Turner said the highest-ranking schools have either high Hispanic enrollment or are generally considered prestigious schools.

“McCombs has been in the top five for 14 years,” Turner said. “It’s easy to hit third or fourth a year or two in a row, but to be consistently ranked highly for a long period is the salient piece.”

He said the hispanicbusiness.com ranking is the only diversity-based ranking for which the business school submits data.

Rodrigo Malta, McCombs director of MBA admissions, said the business school has a consistent recruiting process both nationally and internationally. Malta said the school’s recruiting and the program’s welcoming environment contribute to the high ranking.

“UT is known as a pretty prestigious university, and the ranking validates that,” Malta said. “We’re looking for diversity and diversity of thought, and these kind of rankings put a spotlight on that.”

Marketing junior Omar Cisneros said the ranking makes him proud to be part of the business school.

“Coming from a primarily Hispanic town, I think a good mix makes for a better learning environment,” Cisneros said.

Officials from the School of Law did not get back for comment by press time.

Printed on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 as: Hispanic enrollment raises diversity rank