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Lawmakers Seek to Sit In on Investigation of UT-Austin

State Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Lyle Larson say they intend to attend all interviews conducted during an external investigation of UT-Austin's admissions process. It's not clear yet whether they'll be allowed.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, say they intend to attend all interviews conducted during an external investigation of the University of Texas at Austin's admissions process. It's not clear yet whether they'll be allowed. 

The two lawmakers were appointed by their colleagues on the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to monitor the University of Texas System Board of Regents after the legislative committee voted to admonish and censure one of those regents, Wallace Hall.

Before that vote, the committee had investigated Hall for more than a year following concerns that were raised about the appropriateness of his personal investigations into the operations at the flagship university. Hall has denied any wrongdoing and said that he was duty-bound to look into activities at the university he believed were not above-board.

Among Hall's concerns were allegations that the university's admissions process was subject to undue political influence from lawmakers. An internal review of the university conducted by system officials did not find evidence of any inappropriate behavior, but concluded that a recommendation from a lawmaker did appear to increase an applicant's chances of admission.

After that review was conducted, University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa received additional information, the details of which have not been released, that prompted him to commission an outside investigation of the matter. The system has hired Kroll Associates, a New York-based firm, to look into it, and agreed to pay the firm up to $145,000.

In a letter sent to UT System Board Chairman Paul Foster on Monday, the legislators indicated that, in their oversight capacity, they intend to attend "or otherwise monitor" all the interviews conducted by the private company. They also extended an invitation for the system to use the Capitol as the location for all interviews, which they note "would have the added advantage of audio and video equipment to record and preserve the interviews."

Foster responded to that letter by notifying the lawmakers that he was scheduling a meeting on Monday to discuss the matter with the entire board. The agenda indicates topics of conversation include the lawmakers' request, "the ongoing independent investigation of admissions practices at UT-Austin, and actions of the board necessary to maintain the integrity and independence of the investigation."

Disclosure: Paul Foster is a major donor to The Texas Tribune. 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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