The University of Texas System plans to seek a full external investigation of legislative influence on admissions at the University of Texas at Austin, the system's chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa, told The Texas Tribune in a Friday interview.
In May, the system released the findings of a limited inquiry into the matter conducted by Dan Sharphorn, the system's vice chancellor and general counsel, and Wanda Mercer, the system's associate vice chancellor for student affairs. It was prompted by allegations by UT System Regent Wallace Hall of "secret favoritism" in the admissions process. Hall's personal digging into operations at UT-Austin has put him at the center of an ongoing legislative investigation with the potential to end in his impeachment. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The system's original review looked at a small sample of applicants on whose behalf state lawmakers had written letters of recommendation. It found that the applicants in question were admitted at a higher rate than the university's overall acceptance rate, but it found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the UT-Austin administration or any quid pro quo arrangements with lawmakers.
While no further investigation was initially planned, the findings raised enough concerns that, at the May board meeting, Cigarroa announced a systemwide review and revision of all admissions practices to ensure best practices were being followed at all UT campuses.
The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.
But since the review became public, Cigarroa said Friday, "there are still ongoing questions and there has been additional input." This week, Cigarroa and Sharphorn decided it would be best to proceed with a full investigation, he said.
"The bottom line is that with this limited inquiry, we can't answer all these questions," Cigarroa said. "We are responsible to the public. If the public has concerns or questions, then we will do an investigation. So in fact, we are going to do a more formal external investigation of this, basically to put the matter to rest."
The chancellor said the investigation was not prompted by any particular concerns he had after reading the results of the initial review. "It's not, 'Aha! I'm really concerned with this or that,'" he said. "My leadership style is that, if there are ongoing concerns, we're going to take a deeper dive."
A spokesman for UT-Austin decline to comment on plans for an external review.
Launching a formal investigation is a slightly touchier subject at the UT System than at other public university systems in the state. In the last legislative session, in an effort to address concerns about Hall's digging into UT-Austin, lawmakers included a provision in the budget requiring the system to provide the Legislative Budget Board at least seven days of notice — plus information regarding cause and scope — before launching an investigation of a campus or its administration.
Cigarroa said key members of the Legislature and the UT-Austin administration have been notified, but the proceedings were still in a very early stage. System leaders have yet to identify an external investigator. As for the expense, he said, "I think it's going to cost some money. I don't know how much money it will cost."
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.