Wallace Hall Jr.

University releases confidential records to Regent Wallace Hall

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.

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.

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 that with the exception of Social Security numbers, personal health information and information about students, Hall is entitled to see the information. System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the files were expected to arrive this morning.

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.

Yesterday, The Texas Tribune published a revealing story about UT System Regent Wallace Hall Jr. 

These days, Hall is best known on campus and at the Capitol for his apparent mission to unseat UT President William Powers Jr. Specifically, Hall proposed and received approval from the other regents on March 20 to fund an investigation of forgivable loans given from a private foundation to law school faculty, even though the Texas attorney general signed off on a previous investigation, the results of which placed no blame on Powers — who served as dean of the law school before becoming UT president — for “lack of transparency” related to the loans.

According to the Tribune story, Hall shares his own lack-of-transparency moment: When he was being vetted after the governor nominated him as a regent, he omitted mention of several lawsuits to which he had been a party, despite a requirement he do so.  

“The lawsuits themselves may or may not prove embarrassing to Hall, but the failure to disclose them provides fodder to critics who think the UT regents are on a ‘witch hunt’ to hurt its flagship university and take out its leader,” the Tribune reports.

Among those “critics” the Tribune article cites are state senators.

In December, when covering the development that Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, failed to disclose his connection to a company the board had selected to build a new children’s hospital — at the time the company the board selected had a pending business deal with a company Powell co-founded with his son — this editorial board said, “for a public official, the appearance of a conflict of interest often drains public trust as irrevocably as a verified one.” The same observation applies to Hall’s omissions from his regent application. Powell didn’t view his connection to the hospital as relevant information. 

Yesterday, in response to the Tribune’s questions, Hall called his omissions unintentional. “I do not recall the specifics,” Hall wrote in an email to the Tribune. “I have been asked by the governor’s office to supplement my disclosure and will do so shortly.” The brevity of Hall’s explanation starkly contrasts with his aggressive pursuit of Powers’ possible vulnerabilities due to the law school loans. We are disappointed and disillusioned by Hall’s apparent failure to disclose information, but we also aren’t surprised.

The missing Hall lawsuits is the latest development in the power struggle between the Board of Regents, the Texas Senate and the UT administration, yet not a decisive one. This development suggests two things we already suspected: First, the regents consider themselves policy-setting, appointed judges. In their view, their sole responsibility is to scrutinize administrators they are charged with overseeing. Second, they do not view themselves as public officials who should be subject to the same scrutiny as others. But that scrutiny is what the Legislature is applying, evident in one state senator’s sharp comments in reaction to the disclosures about Hall’s omissions. 

“Clearly this was withheld. It would seem to indicate Mr. Hall felt like it was disqualifying for his nomination,” Higher Education Committee Chairman Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, told the Tribune. “Withholding that, I think, is a very, very serious thing.”

The regents, the administration and the legislators in this fight are digging for dirt on one another. In our online age when the splashiest “gotcha” moment has the potential to derail a career, each side attempts to catch the other lest they be caught themselves.

After all that has happened, distrust, and possible loathing, must thrive among the politicians, the regents and the administration. As this brawl gets uglier, we expect Gov. Rick Perry and certain members of the Legislature to emerge from behind the curtain and openly enter the arena.     

We don’t know who will win and who will lose. But we know this fight is no longer about the long-term goals of this University, but rather about the short-term employment and power grabs of those who govern it.

UT System Regent Wallace Hall Jr. failed to disclose his involvement in at least six past lawsuits in his December 2010 application to serve as a regent, according to documents obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Hall, who has been vocal about his desire for more transparent leadership at UT, did not mention six state and federal lawsuits on his application or during the 2011 nomination process.

“I think it’s another sign that we as students need to be continuously watching the actions of the regents,” Senior Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils president said. “It’s a little hypocritical of Hall to not disclose this information yet also be making all these data requests and be engaged in the micromanagement of the University. It’s a hypocritical action and one I’m glad members of the legislature have already begun to speak out against.”

Hall has made several efforts to increase UT administration’s transparency in the last several months, making far-reaching requests for boxes worth of open records. At a recent hearing about the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation, Hall defended the board’s decision to continue an external review of the foundation by saying the System continues to receive documents not included in his initial open records request. 

System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo declined to make a statement on behalf of the Board of Regents and said all questions should be forwarded to Hall.

UT System Regent Wallace Hall failed to disclose several past lawsuits during application process

UT System Regent Wallace Hall Jr. failed to disclose his involvement in at least six past lawsuits in his December 2010 application to serve as a regent, according to documents obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Hall, who has been vocal about his desire for more transparent leadership at UT, did not list six state and federal lawsuits on his application and did not mention them during the 2011 nomination process. 

Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils president, said its “a little hypocritical” for Hall to demand transparency from the University while not disclosing his personal information.

“I think it’s another sign that we as students need to be continuously watching the actions of the regents,” Morton said. “It’s a little hypocritical of Hall to not disclose this information yet also be making all these data requests and be engaged in the micromanagement of the University. It’s a hypocritical action, and one I’m glad members of the legislature have already begun to speak out against.”

Hall has made several efforts to increase UT administration’s transparency in the last several months, making far-reaching requests for boxes worth of open records. At a recent hearing about the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation, Hall defended the board’s decision to continue an external review of the foundation by saying the System continues to receive documents not included in his initial open records request. 

System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo declined to make a statement on behalf of the Board of Regents and said all questions should be forwarded to Hall.