System spokeswoman

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System will launch an external investigation into the University’s admissions process, according to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo.

After the System released its findings from a limited investigation in May, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Dan Sharphorn, System vice chancellor and general counsel, determined a full investigation was needed because of questions raised about the admissions process by the public, LaCoste-Caputo said.

“There were some lingering questions and the chancellor felt a deeper investigation was needed,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

Cigarroa first announced the investigation in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Friday. An outside firm has not yet been selected.

The limited investigation, which looked at the influence of letters of recommendations from state legislators on the University’s admissions process, was conducted by Sharphorn and Wanda Mercer, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. According its report, the investigation found there was no structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing at the University, but found instances in which letters from legislators sent directly to President William Powers Jr. or a dean likely influenced the admissions process.

“With the undergraduate data, there is at least the strong appearance that the letters of recommendation from legislators, regardless of the strength of the substance of the recommendations, count more in admissions decisions than other letters of recommendations,” the report stated.

At a Board of Regents meeting in May, Cigarroa suggested ending the practice of allowing letters not submitted through the prescribed process to be considered in admissions decisions and said he would review System-wide admissions processes by meeting with institution presidents and admissions officials to develop new recommendations for change.

According to the report, Cigarroa authorized the initial investigation in July 2013 after Regent Wallace Hall brought up issues with the admissions process from two emails he received from one of his records request to the University.

Because of his large records requests to the University, Hall became the subject of a House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations investigation after state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority and working to remove Powers from office. In May, the committee determined grounds for his impeachment exist, and it is in the process of drafting specific impeachment articles.

One of the committee’s co-chairs, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said he supports the System’s investigation.

“That’s part of what [the transparency committee] suggested all along is that there need to be some procedural changes at the University, and I applaud them for going forward to delve into those procedures,” Flynn said.

Flynn said the committee could act if the investigation finds wrongdoing.

“If there’s something that’s inappropriate, it needs to be sought out,” Flynn said. “If after their probe they find something that’s inappropriate, then certainly it should be brought to attention.”

UT spokesman Gary Susswein declined to comment on the new investigation.

The UT System has not moved any closer to finding a new chancellor since hiring an executive search firm on March 12, according to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo. 

In February, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced he would be stepping down after serving in the position since 2009. Cigarroa will serve as the director of pediatric transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center-San Antonio following his resignation. 

Earlier this month, the System signed a contract with Wheless Partners, a national executive search firm, to assist in the search for a new chancellor. Cigarroa will remain in his position until the next chancellor is selected. 

According to Board Chairman Paul Foster, a new chancellor will be selected over the summer so he or she can officially begin working at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester. 

“The Board of Regents is fully committed to finding a new chancellor who is worthy of leading one of the finest and most prominent public universities in America and the world,” Foster said in a statement from the System. “We will not settle until we have the right person for this extraordinary responsibility.”

According to reports from The Texas Tribune, Gov. Rick Perry is encouraging the board to consider Kyle Janek, Health and Human Services Executive commissioner, for the position. Perry does not have appointment power in selecting the Chancellor — that decision is ultimately up to the Board of Regents. Perry’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

While announcing his resignation, Cigarroa said the existing tensions between President William Powers Jr. and members of the Board of Regents did not factor into his decision to step down. An email to Cigarroa from Foster, originally obtained by The Dallas Morning News, suggested Regent Wallace Hall accused Cigarroa of not doing his job weeks before Cigarroa announced his resignation. 

Hall is currently being investigated by the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations for overstepping his role as a regent by filing open record requests for over 800,000 pages of information, according to Kevin Hegarty, UT executive vice president and chief financial officer. Individuals at the System have said his requests amounted to only 100,000 pages of information. 

William Cunningham, former chancellor and former UT president, said he thinks it’s important for the chancellor to be able to work closely with all of the regents and the presidents at the various institutions within the System. 

“The chancellor must be able to work with the presidents and the regents, and that’s not always easy,” Cunningham said. “The regents are your bosses, [and] your job is to keep them informed and to shape their decision making process. You play a special role as chancellor in helping the regents understand what the issues are and also helping them understand the position the System should take.”

Cunningham said it is vital for a chancellor to preserve UT’s academic prowess. 

“They need to understand UT-Austin’s historical role that it has played in the development of the System and also UT-Austin’s academic flagship status — that must never be questioned,” Cunningham said. “If you have a chancellor who said, ‘I’m not really sure if we should differentiate between the component institutions,’ or ‘I’m not sure UT-Austin should be the flagship academic institution,’ that person will not be successful and will not do a good job as chancellor.”