After years of going for each other’s throats from afar through the media and legislative maneuvers, University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall and state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, met for the first time in person at the Texas Tribune Festival Saturday. And the two had a quite a bit to hash out.
Martinez Fischer, a member of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, was among six members who voted to admonish and censure Hall for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office.”
The committee’s investigation of Hall focused on the regent’s lengthy personal investigations of the University of Texas at Austin administration and his subsequent handling of private student information.
For nearly an hour, in an interview moderated by Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey, Martinez Fischer and Hall debated issues of fairness in influencing student admissions, tensions between lawmakers and regents and the length of Hall’s inquiry to obtain information from UT-Austin.
“There seems to be a couple of standards here — one for regents and one for everyone else,” Martinez Fischer told Hall in response to Hall’s admission that regents had been known to earmark some students’ applications in the admissions process.
“Why do regents have the ability to flag an application, yet a public official's letter is problematic?” Martinez Fischer asked.
The two disagreed over how the subcommittee’s investigation has played out. Hall explained that he asked to be subpoenaed to testify before the subcommittee, which he said would enable him to answer questions of attorney-client privilege and student privacy, but was never asked.
“You're the only person in the entire cast of characters who wanted to redact emails. It's clear to me, you had no intentions of cooperating,” Martinez Fischer said.
Hall said that the Kroll Report showed "thousands of students who came in the back door, were admitted and shouldn't have been." And yet, he said his quest for information is far from over. He couldn’t answer where the line is in this investigation: "I don't know what I don't know."
And Hall defended his relentless pursuit of information from UT-Austin.
"The difference was when I went to other UT presidents, I got answers,” he said. “At UT-Austin, it's where time goes to die. Once I started with UT-Austin, you guys [addressing Martinez Fischer] had a fit. The fact that I can't get the information I want makes me want it even more.”
In the end, the two agreed to disagree on the impact the ongoing investigation and inquiry has had on the system and on UT-Austin.
“Yes, the university is better for this happening,” Hall said.
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