Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
The University of Texas System Board of Regents will allow member Wallace Hall to review data and documents collected during an investigation into outside influence on UT-Austin admissions. But in approving the request, Hall’s colleagues warned him about overstepping his bounds and pursuing lone-wolf investigations.
The decision came during a contentious, hour-long telephone meeting in which Hall’s request for information was the only item discussed. A majority of the regents voted against turning over the records to Hall, but board policy only requires two regents to sign off.
Hall said he wants to review the information because it can help him make future decisions about admissions. But other members questioned whether Hall was opening up his own investigation after Chancellor Bill McRaven declared the old one complete. That would usurp McRaven’s authority, they said.
McRaven agreed, hinting that he was uncomfortable with Hall wading back into a closed investigation.
“If the expectation is that every time I make a decision as a CEO that a single regent or two can trump that decision, then I need to rethink this relationship with this board,” McRaven said.
Hall argued that he is simply doing his due diligence as a regent. Nothing he is asking for is out of bounds, he said.
“The repeated pushback that I have received for simply wanting to review documents and ask questions is unprecedented,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re afraid of.”
Accusations that Hall is overreaching are nothing new. Hall’s requests for information have been a source of controversy at the UT System for years. UT-Austin employees have generated hundreds of thousands of pages of documents to comply. Some of those pages included confidential student information.
Hall's information requests have led to an impeachment effort, inquiries by a grand jury and calls for his resignation. (He was neither impeached nor indicted.)
Now, Hall is seeking “any and all information, confidential or otherwise,” related to an inquiry that revealed that UT-Austin president Bill Powers helped get some students into college over the admissions office’s objections.
He also asked to speak with one of the employees of Kroll Associates, the firm that produced the report. The board denied that request.
Under a Board of Regents policy approved last year, requests for information are supposed to be sent to the chancellor, who then reviews them with the board chairman. If they have concerns, the request goes to the full board for a vote.
But with only two regents needed to sign off, the six-member majority that opposed Hall lost the vote. Some of the people on the losing end said during the meeting that they'd like to change the policy.
"I find it a little bit unsettling that, if the recommendation of the chairman and the chancellor is one thing, it only takes two votes to overrule that," said Vice Chairman Steve Hicks.
Under an agreement reached during the meeting, Hall will be allowed to review the documents at system offices. That arrangement was made to ensure that none of the information is leaked to the press, something many regents said they were worried about.
One issue was left undecided: System lawyers will determine whether Hall will be allowed to review confidential student information. Hall said he’d like to review everything, but some regents, including Chairman Paul Foster, disapproved of that idea.
The accessibility of that student information may turn out to be an important question. The Kroll report mentioned 73 students who were admitted with an SAT score of less than 1100 and a high school GPA of less than 2.9. The report said that political connections “may have influenced the admission decision in a small number of cases.” But specific names of the students or political influencers weren’t made public.
Hall has expressed interest in their identity. In a statement last week, he said that “those exposed for their abuses should be driven from office.”
Disclosure: Steve Hicks is a major donor to The Texas Tribune. The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Paul Foster has been a major donor to the Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.