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UT Law School Foundation Wants Sullivan to Retract Statements

UPDATED: Conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan has said the UT Law School Foundation must turn over documents for his review if it wants him to consider retracting comments he made.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Updated June 30, 5 p.m.:

Michael Quinn Sullivan, a vocal advocate for conservative causes, posted a response to the leaders of the University of Texas Law School Foundation on Monday.

The president and vice president of the foundation had asked Sullivan to retract statements on the foundation's forgivable loan program that appeared in mailers issued by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, a conservative group where Sullivan is president.

In his response, Sullivan makes it clear that such a retraction will not be immediately forthcoming.

In order for one even to be considered, he wrote, the foundation would have to provide him with all documents it has turned over to those involved in related investigations, including the University of Texas System, the office of the attorney general and the members of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.

"These documents should be made immediately available to my attorney and financial investigator, so that we can verify your claim that no illegal activity occurred," Sullivan wrote.

He further requested all documents related to the disbursement of funds from the foundation to the University of Texas School of Law, as well as documents related to the 2011 forced resignation of Larry Sager, the former dean of the law school.

"If you are interested in a retraction or clarification, providing these documents will obviously provide the information necessary for us to take any such action," he wrote. 

Original story, June 19: 

Officials at the University of Texas Law School Foundation are refuting statements conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan has made in mailers his organization has distributed throughout the state.

In late May, Sullivan, the president of the influential conservative group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, sent out a mailer regarding the ongoing legislative investigation of University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall. The regent, who became a thorn in the side of the University of Texas at Austin over his extensive probe into admissions practices, has been accused by lawmakers and others of abusing his authority. He has denied any wrongdoing.

In the mailer, Sullivan described Hall as "a whistle-blower who has allegedly uncovered a multi-million dollar payola scheme." He accused the Law School Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money to provide support to UT-Austin's law school, of "secretly — and illegally — handing out 'forgivable loans' (pay-offs) to favored professors and administrators." Similar language was used in a separate Texans for Fiscal Responsibility mailer targeting House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

In a June 16 response, John H. Massey and Robin C. Gibbs — the president and vice president, respectively, of the Law School Foundation — said the characterization of the foundation's efforts was "false, defamatory and malicious." They requested that Sullivan retract his statements. 

The relationship between the foundation and the university came under scrutiny in 2011, when Larry Sager, then the dean of the law school, was asked by UT-Austin President Bill Powers to resign. Sager had received a $500,000 forgivable loan through the Law School Foundation's program, a detail that came to light following his ouster.

Barry Burgdorf, who was the UT System's general counsel at the time, conducted a review of the forgivable loan program. He concluded that it was "not appropriate" and recommended ending it. The program was terminated, but Burgdorf's report was ultimately rejected by the Board of Regents, which asked the Texas attorney general's office to conduct another investigation. That investigation has apparently stalled.

"Contrary to the false assertions in your letter, any funds contributed by the foundation toward supplementing compensation of law professors, including the deferred compensation agreements patently mischaracterized in your letters, have been furnished by the foundation solely in response to law school administrative requests by past deans of the law school," Massey and Gibbs wrote to Sullivan. Similar arrangements exist at other top law schools, they wrote.

When asked if he intended to retract his statements, Sullivan was dismissive. In an email on Thursday, Sullivan said the correspondence from Law School Foundation officials — which he said he had yet to receive — "looks like a PR letter."

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.

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