Gov. Rick Perry, who has appointed each member of the UT System Board of Regents—and who once compared some of them to soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge—spoke out today against the investigation into Wallace Hall, the UT regent accused of overstepping his role on the board.
Back in March, Perry urged Hall, along with other regents, to keep up the fight against the “charlatans and peacocks” they faced. He did not clarify who the charlatans and peacocks were, nor what the fight concerned. But today’s comments come as Hall faces possible impeachment over manifestations of that “fight”: reports that Hall misrepresented information on his regental application, potentially broke federal law by accessing sensitive student data, and made burdensome records requests exclusively of UT-Austin without any board approval or directive.
“I think the idea that a regent or an appointee at any place in government is being stymied from asking questions about the operation of a particular agency is very, very bad public policy,” Perry said, according to the Texas Tribune. “I think it is sending a horrible message to the public.”
The comments are Perry’s first public remarks regarding the embattled regent, whose conduct is now the focus of a Texas House committee appointed by Speaker Joe Staus (R-San Antonio) to follow up on accusations raised by former budget committee chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie). Pitts has led the charge against Hall, and is one of many who have contended that Hall’s actions are part of a “witch hunt” to oust UT president Bill Powers. Hall maintains he has only been doing his job, and that he has uncovered evidence of financial impropriety at UT-Austin and favoritism in admissions.
For months, accusations and counter-accusations of malfeasance have been exchanged between regents and legislators. The committee is now convened to not just clear the air, but also to, as co chair Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) put it, “set the record straight.”
Perry’s defense of Hall is only likely to heighten what the governor described as the committee’s “extraordinary political theater.” Throughout the proceedings, allies of Hall have called the investigation a kangaroo court. Though it’s charged only with making a recommendation on whether impeachment should be considered, Hall’s attorneys and well-wishers have noted that witnesses cannot be cross-examined; they have accused committee members of bias against Hall.
Yesterday, Hall’s attorneys announced that their client would be willing to testify but wants to be subpoenaed to do so. Last week, new regents chair Paul Foster signaled his intention to change some board policies that have concerned legislators, including requiring that individual regents get approval before making large data requests of a campus.
Perry spoke to reporters outside his polling place, where he voted in the constitutional amendment election earlier today.
“I just think that at the end, the public’s need to know and the public’s right to know, questions that Mr. Hall is asking, is totally and absolutely correct,” Perry said. “And at the end of the day we’ll find out whether there are things that are being hidden, things that individuals don’t want to have out in the public.”
Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons.