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UT System Pushes Back Against Criticism of Regent Hall

As a House committee considers whether to bring articles of impeachment against University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, system leaders have responded strongly to recent criticism of Hall.

Dallas businessman Wallace Hall, Jr. takes notes at the University of Texas Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 14, 2013 in Austin.

The University of Texas System has begun pushing back against allegations from the University of Texas at Austin administration and state lawmakers regarding Regent Wallace Hall, as a House committee considers whether to bring articles of impeachment against the regent.

In a June 30 article in the Houston Chronicle, the flagship university’s chief financial officer, Kevin Hegarty, said that Hall, who has made numerous records requests of UT-Austin, has been accessing confidential information. He said the information should have been redacted, but the university has been forced to turn over so many documents so quickly that it has been unable to take the necessary precautions.

The matter was cited by state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, in an Austin American-Statesman op-ed on July 7. Pitts wrote that it was “another example of Hall creating disruption and sowing discord, in the name of transparency.”

This prompted strong responses from both UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and UT System Board Chairman Gene Powell.

Cigarroa wrote to UT-Austin President Bill Powers on July 9. “We do not know if Mr. Hegarty was misquoted or his statements taken out of context, or if he simply misunderstood what occurred,” Cigarroa wrote, indicating that he believed some issues should be clarified.

Specifically, he pointed out that Hall had not been allowed to see anything that was not reviewed by the system’s lawyers to be sure they were not violating federal privacy standards.

“I feel compelled to share these important facts with you for both accuracy and for your understanding of the process,” Cigarroa wrote.

Powell further argued, in a letter to Pitts sent on Monday, that Hall’s activities had been “misunderstood.”

The chairman said that Hall's reviews of records “have resulted in suggestions for process improvement and better governance at the UT System and at UT institutions.”

He also addressed the touchy issue of the board’s decision to continue investigating controversial compensation practices at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

After conducting its own internal review, the board decided to set it aside and seek an outside review of the situation. The move prompted Pitts to say that the board was on a “witch hunt” to get Powers.

In his recent letter, Powell included an anonymous letter that was sent to Cigarroa in March 2011 with detailed allegations about the compensation program, which featured large forgivable loans provided to faculty members from the UT Law School Foundation that were not reported publicly.

Months after the letter was received, in December 2011, the dean of the law school, Larry Sager, who had received a $500,000 forgivable loan, was asked to step down.

But Powell told Pitts that the anonymous allegations were not known to the board until years later. It was not mentioned in the report generated by the system’s internal review of the process.

“The discovery of this letter was a key factor in the board’s action to seek an investigation outside of the UT system,” Powell wrote.

The attorney general's office is conducting an external review of the law school foundation’s loan program.

Neither Pitts’ office nor the University of Texas at Austin returned requests for comment.

Powell wrote to Pitts that he hoped his letter “is of some help to you and will clear up some of the misinformation I am afraid you have been provided."

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