Hall

UT System Regent Wallace Hall

On Monday, the Texas House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted 7-1 to continue the investigation of embattled UT System Regent Wallace Hall. Hall, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, has always been an imperfect fit for the System, particularly as a result of his Perry-backed, business-minded stances on the proper role of higher education and often confrontational style. The House committee found there were grounds for Hall’s impeachment, partially as a result of these issues since taking office. In practice, Hall’s intransigence has shown itself through his witch hunt against UT President William Powers Jr. This crusade has taken the form of filing a taxing number of records requests and finagling in business beyond his purview.

While no one can be blamed for Hall’s actions but Hall himself, one cannot ignore the influence of Perry in the regent’s political maneuvering. An investigative report conducted by Rusty Hardin, special counsel to the committee, details both what Hardin identifies as the regent’s impeachable offenses as well as the extent to which the governor, a known opponent of Powers, has attempted to effect his own personal agenda through Hall. According to the report, “A number of witnesses interviewed in the course of this investigation opined that a well-known goal of Governor Perry — and, by extension, his appointee Hall — is to terminate Powers as UT Austin President.”

This editorial board applauds the findings of the House committee, and strongly urges them to recommend full articles of impeachment when the committee comes back into session on May 21.

In the meantime, we strongly hope that Hall resigns before any more harm is done, both to this University and this State. We stand with state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, in requesting Hall's resignation so the past few years' drama can finally come to an end.

As former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson recently opined in the pages of the Austin American-Statesman, the standard for impeachments in state offices is a significantly lower hurdle than federal positions. The committee need not prove that Hall was engaged in some sort of nefarious conspiracy, but merely that he took actions tantamount to malfeasance.

Any cursory overview of Hall’s tumultuous tenure is proof enough of said malfeasance, in this board’s opinion. Surely, the bipartisan representatives on the House committee saw the issue similarly, which is why they found that Hall engaged in impeachable offenses.

Texans take their education seriously, particularly at this University. As UT megadonor Joe Jamail was quoted as saying on this issue recently, “One thing [Gov.] Perry’s got to understand is, we impeached one [expletive deleted] governor for fooling with the University of Texas.”

Jamail, of course, was referring to James Edward “Pa” Ferguson, who left office in disgrace about a century ago after getting into a tiff over academic freedom, but more broadly to the power of the Governor’s office to micromanage the affairs of the University. Judging by today’s events, said micromanaging — now on the part of Hall — will still be dealt with the same way.

 

Powers: Regent controversy a "tremendous distraction and hindrance" to the University

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Following testimony from UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and President William Powers Jr. on Wednesday, state legislators said they would be ready to make a recommendation on Regent Wallace Hall’s potential impeachment as soon as the the committee council’s report is finished.

Powers and Cigarroa testified in front of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations as part of an ongoing investigation into Hall’s actions in his capacity as regent. Additionally, former regents Scott Caven and John Barnhill voluntarily provided testimony of their own. Powers and Cigarroa were subpoenaed. 

Hall has been accused of conducting a "witch-hunt" against Powers and overstepping his role as a regent. According to University officials, Hall filed open records requests for more than 800,000 pages of information over the last year. At a committee hearing in November, UT System lawyers testified Hall was given documents containing information protected by federal privacy laws, which he subsequently shared with his private attorney.

If the committee does decide to issue articles of impeachment, Hall will be the first state employee appointed by the governor to be impeached in Texas history.

When pressed repeatedly to quantify the cost of Hall's many requests by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, Powers said Hall's actions cost the University well over $1 million, but he insisted he could not give an exact number at that time.

The hearing took place following a tense UT System Board of Regents meeting last week, where the regents discussed Powers’ employment status, among other topics, in a closed executive session that lasted for four-and-a-half hours. At the end of the session, Cigarroa recommended Powers remain president at UT despite what he called a "strained" relationship between Powers and the System.

In his testimony Wednesday, Powers said the controversy between himself and the board has been a "tremendous distraction and hindrance" to the University's future. He said the instability created by these issues has had a negative impact on UT's academic recruitment and retention.

"We are an institution that depends on talent and recruiting the very best people to the campus," Powers said. "This has done significant harm to our reputation in the academic world nationally and internationally."

Powers said that he had not had a conversation with Hall — beyond causally greeting him in passing — in over six months. Hall declined the committee's invitation to testify tomorrow, and has stated through his attorneys that he will only do so in the future if a subpoena is issued. Though the committee issued a subpoena to Hall at their last meeting in November, they dropped the subpoena the same day.

"Mr. Hall has said time and time again that he was anxious and more than willing to tell his side of the story," said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston and committee co-chairwoman. "I believe he could have provided this committee with matchless testimony that would have helped us set the record straight. Transparency requires cooperation. As my co-chair and I have stated, our invitation to Regent Hall to testify still stands."

At the hearing, Cigarroa said Hall's actions were disruptive to the System and took a toll on its employees, although he made a point to mention that the requests did not "paralyze the system."

"Over the past years there have been distractions, in the sense of what [the committee] has been deliberating on," Cigarroa said. "The reason [Hall's actions] were painful for me, as the chancellor of the UT System, is that I had to see morale drop."

Several committee members referenced alleged requests by Hall for information about Power's personal travel expenses. Cigarroa said such information requests were "not appropriate." Cigarroa also said that Hall has shown an unusual focus on UT-Austin, as compared to his interest in — and records requests reguarding — other UT institutions.

"Scientifically, if you look at a bell curve or scatter plot, the number of requests from Regent Hall fall way out of the norm," Cigarroa said. "I would say Regent Hall has an insatiable appetite for data and many, many, many questions."

The committee also heard testimony from former regents Caven and Barnhill, as the members tried to determine the appropriate role of a regent. Both regents said that in their tenure, they could not recall a regent acting as independently from the rest of the board as Hall has done recently. 

At a specially called meeting in October, newly elected board Chairman Paul Foster said he intends to recommend changes to existing policy about the board's responsibilities regarding transparency. 

"I'm an individual with a philosophy of continual improvement there has to be a better way of doing this," Cigarroa said at Wednesday's hearing. "I am very supportive of [Foster's] proposal."

Cigarroa and Powers both stated that they were optimistic about the future and Cigarroa said he considered last week's Regents meeting to be a turning point.

"I think that we are on the precipice of this board beginning to heal it's been through a rough time," Cigarroa said.

After several months of dispute, the University agreed this week to release confidential records from October 2012 to February 2013 to UT System Board of Regents member Wallace Hall Jr.

According to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the documents arrived at the System’s downtown office on Wednesday morning. 

LaCoste-Caputo said the documents would likely be returned later that day, after the documents were copied by System employees. Hall was also on site to begin his review of the documents. 

Kevin Hegarty, the University’s vice president and chief financial officer, is in charge of open records requests. According to the Austin-American Statesman, Hegarty initially was hesitant to give access to confidential records to Hall – but system lawyers advised with the exception of Social Security numbers, personal health information and information about students, Hall is entitled to see the information he requested. 

Hall, who had already been granted access to roughly 40 boxes of materials, requested the files earlier this year as part of a larger conflict between the University and the board. Hall was also one of the four regents who voted for an external review of the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation because he alleged there were documents that were not made available for the original investigation conducted by System council Barry Burgdorf.

In April, The Texas Tribune obtained documents revealing Hall had failed to disclose his involvement in at least six state and federal lawsuits on his original application for the regent position. In the same week, board chairman Gene Powell asked the Texas Attorney General if the System is allowed to withhold information from legislators. 

Powell’s request was prompted by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who made a wide-ranging request as a private citizen under the Texas Public Information Act. Powell’s letter sparked sharp criticism from lawmakers and the board voted unanimously to release all documents requested at their most recent meeting. 

The majestic University campus is a source of pride for all Longhorns, from the collegiate Six Pack to the ever-photogenic Tower. What most students fail to notice about our campus, however, is the years of racism ingrained in its landmarks and buildings. From buildings named for a KKK Grand Dragon to the three Confederate flags that fly on the 40 Acres, the “legacy of the Confederacy” can be found throughout campus — but hardly anyone notices.

Edmund Gordon, chair of the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, hosts a tour of the racial geography and history of the UT campus. During this tour, he educates students about the origins of places on campus such as Littlefield House, the home of George Littlefield, Mississippi slave owner, Confederate major and former UT regent. Littlefield established a “Littlefield Fund for Southern History” to revamp the University’s textbooks in a “confederate perspective,” which glorifies the antebellum South and reduces the evils of slavery. Littlefield donated a great deal to the University, including Littlefield Fountain and a nearby inscription to the men and women of the Confederacy who “gave their possessions” to protect the South.

Other spots on campus are also highlighted, including RLM Hall, named for Robert Lee Moore, a mathematician who refused to let African-American students in his classes, and the former Simkins dormitory, named for William Simkins, Florida KKK Grand Dragon and former UT professor. Simkins had a major role in reinitiating the KKK at UT, and he gave an annual speech to the student body about his appreciation of the KKK. Painter Hall is named for a former UT president who was involved in preventing Heman Sweatt, a black UT School of Law applicant, from attending the law school because of his race.

The tour also highlights some of the UT traditions that have racial undertones. For example, UT’s annual Roundup event used to feature a minstrel show in which students dressed as and imitated African-Americans and Hispanics. During these shows, the UT alma mater “The Eyes of Texas” was performed as a minstrelsy song. The Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is named after the legendary football coach who was also one of the last in the nation to allow black students on his team. His reputation is allegedly one of the reasons that led to his retirement.

Some have called for the removal of many of these landmarks, such as the rows of statues of Confederate soldiers in the Six Pack. They argue that the landmarks besmirch UT’s name and create a hostile environment for many students. Our University has — for the most part — transformed since the time of overt racism, and the landscape does not reflect this.

Others argue the landmarks are a preservation of Southern history and should be preserved. Yet the history and culture these critics are trying to protect is one of deep-seated racial hatred. This argument often masks the racism that comes with Southern history and hence is unfair to the many racially and ethnically diverse students who attend UT.

Though embarrassing, our University’s past must not be forgotten, and thus we must keep our blemishes. Just as our country cannot forget its past of slavery, as a mechanism to ensure this institution and other forms of human rights violations are never carried out again, we have to remember the University’s racist beginnings.

Gordon’s tour is an eye-opening lesson about the racism in our campus’ history, and I suggest that all students attend Gordon’s racial geography and history tour. It could even be included in New Student Orientation. We should also include an introductory race relations and gender course in the required curriculum. This course could highlight the plight of minorities in our country and illustrate the wrongful stereotypes they face as a means to help eliminate racism and discrimination.

We still have a long way to go before the problems of institutionalized and overt racism are widely recognized on our campus. After overhearing students wonder why we have a lounge on campus named after Malcolm X but that we had to rename Simkins Dormitory, I strongly feel the entire student body must be educated about race relations. The landmarks should remain on campus as a lesson to all.

Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.