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UT System: Hall Doesn't Have Right to Sue McRaven

The University of Texas System, seeking to dismiss a lawsuit from Regent Wallace Hall against Chancellor William McRaven, says in a court filing that Hall is, in short, suing McRaven "for refusing to violate federal and state privacy laws."

University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall talks with colleague Gene Powell during a break at a regents' meeting  on May 14, 2014.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Mounting their defense against a lawsuit filed by University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, lawyers for the UT System argued in a Monday court filing that Hall doesn’t have a right to sue and that his case should be dismissed.

The system also argues that Hall’s suit, which seeks access to confidential student information related to admissions at the University of Texas at Austin, is based on moot claims. And it says that Chancellor William McRaven is right to deny Hall access to the unredacted information Hall is seeking.

“In short, Regent Hall sues Chancellor McRaven for refusing to violate federal and student privacy laws,” the filing says in bold-faced type on the second page.

Hall didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The filing is the next step in a years-long admissions fight at UT-Austin. Hall and others raised questions about whether students with powerful connections were being admitted into the school when they didn’t deserve it. A report by an independent investigative firm hired by the system confirmed that, saying that several dozen had been admitted in recent years over the admission's department's objections. Seventy-three of those had SAT scores below 1100 and GPAs below 2.9. 

Hundreds of other students were marked with "holds," indicating that the school's then-President Bill Powers was interested in following their applications. Many of those students got in, too, though the report didn't make a judgment about whether they should have. 

The report didn't say, however, who those students were. Some have argued that the powerful people who might have helped them get into school should be exposed. On Monday, The Dallas Morning News published emails and letters from powerful, famous or rich people who wrote recommendations to Powers or the admissions office. Those people included House Speaker Joe Straus, former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and multiple state legislators. The names of the students were redacted, and there was no indication about how or if those applicants benefited from the letters. 

Hall has asked for the documents used to compile the system's report, though he hasn't said why he wants them. UT System officials have offered to give him redacted versions, but he has shown no interest in those. His quest for the information has essentially been endorsed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Hall filed suit against McRaven last month. 

The lawsuit argues that Hall should have access to the documents because he’s a regent with financial oversight of the UT System. He also cites an April vote by the board of regents in which the board appeared to approve his request. At the time, only two members of the nine-member board were needed to sign off on a regents’ request for information. Three regents backed Hall in the April meeting. 

But UT System lawyers argue that there was some confusion about what exactly that April vote meant. And besides, the question is now moot, the filing says, because a majority of the board later voted to change its policies and deny Hall’s request.

“The Board of Regents has instructed Chancellor McRaven on the proper method of disclosure of [the] documents, and this dispute has now been resolved,” the filing says.

The filing also argues that Hall doesn’t have a right to sue the system. The board of regents can only act as a whole, the filing says. Hall makes no claim to have the full support of the board. In fact, the majority of the board has voted to support McRaven and has urged Hall to drop the suit, the filing says.

“Regent Hall cannot instigate litigation in his official capacity as an individual regent of The University of Texas System,” the filing says.

It will now be up to state District Judge Gisela Triana to rule on the request for dismissal. It’s not immediately clear when that will happen, or whether Hall will file a response.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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