‘Conduct Unbecoming’: Legislators Censure Hall

 

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Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with statements from Regent Wallace Hall and Chairman Paul Foster.

A Texas legislative body investigating UT System regent Wallace Hall took action today after months of deliberation. After nearly four hours in a closed-door session, the Texas House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted 6-1 to release a document of admonishment and censure of Hall. Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) was the sole vote against censure.

Legislators were quick to note that passage of the censure does not preclude the possibility that Hall may still be impeached. “We will continue to weigh our options,” said co-chair Carol Alvarado (D-Houston). She voiced her concern that Hall’s actions over recent years were not in the best interest of UT, the UT System, or the privacy of Texas students.

The vote is a historic one, according to co-chair Dan Flynn (R-Canton), who said he believes it is the first censure of a university regent in state history.

The censure is in the form of a 27-page document that is “critical of the loss of institutional control” at the UT System, said Rep. Walter “Four” Price (R-Amarillo). Price, who along with Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) appears to have taken the lead in drafting the public admonishment, called Hall’s conduct as a member of UT’s governing board “unbecoming.”

“The document will speak for itself,” Martinez Fischer said. He noted that the action comes after a long-running, high-profile investigation that included hundreds of hours of testimony from UT-Austin and System officials, thousands of pages of documents, and was conducted at “considerable cost.” The censure itself mentions the possibility of the UT System footing the $500,000-plus bill.

For more than a year, the committee has looked into Hall’s actions as a board member in an attempt to find out whether he was conducting an alleged “witch hunt” against UT-Austin president Bill Powers, who last month brokered a deal to step down next year after rumors once again surfaced that he was being forced out. Hall’s unusual and voluminous document requests for UT-Austin have drawn scrutiny and he may have violated state or federal statutes regarding protected student data over the course of the investigation. Those claims are being investigated by the state’s Public Integrity Unit.

In April, committee counsel and Houston attorney Rusty Hardin released his report outlining four potential grounds for impeachment. The committee voted in May that grounds do exist. Since then, the bipartisan group has been drafting the articles of impeachment.

Members noted the committee’s broad scope and a desire to move on from an investigation that has occupied the group almost since its creation. Their motion mentions legislators’ wish to take action based on their findings, but also to “clear the decks” so that they—as well as the UT System—can move forward with other important business. Several members noted, however, that overseeing regents’ behavior was still a key part of their charge, and that they would remain engaged and vigilant on the matter.

Update: Regents Chairman Paul Foster and Regent Wallace Hall both responded to today’s vote by the committee. In a statement released to media Monday night, Hall rejected Rep. Flynn’s assertion that he was given a subpoena to testify and alleged that “the committee’s findings are based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentations.”

His colleague Chairman Foster, who has previously asked Hall to resign, defended his colleague, saying,” While I respect the weighty responsibility and authority of the Select Committee, I must disagree strongly with certain findings, conclusions and actions found in the committee’s motion.”

Both statements are reproduced in full below.

You can read the full text of the censure below. Can’t see it? Click here.

Motion of Admonishment and Censure of Wallace L. Hall Jr and Related Findings

Statement by Regent Wallace Hall:

The committee’s findings are based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentations.
Speaker Straus and his committee have abused the public’s trust and money to cover up their improper interference in System operations, including to defend a university president who was repeatedly asked to leave.

Intimidation of non-paid public servants by an “experimental” committee should not be tolerated by the public, the media, or other Texas officials. This is especially true when the effort is intended to interfere in the performance of duties that are required by law and the Texas Constitution.

If committee members wanted the truth about abuses in the UT System, they would have provided a subpoena that would enable me to answer their questions fully. Instead, they chose to not subpoena me so I could not answer the only questions that matter.

Texas deserves legislators who understand their oversight responsibility, and who will not manipulate state government processes to hide and protect their interests.

Statement by Chairman Paul Foster:

As Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, I must respond to the motion adopted today by the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.

While I respect the weighty responsibility and authority of the Select Committee, I must disagree strongly with certain findings, conclusions and actions found in the committee’s motion.

At no time has there been a loss of institutional control within the University of Texas System, either on the part of the Board collectively or Chancellor Cigarroa. To our knowledge, no action taken by the Board or any individual member or by the Chancellor or System officials over the past few months has violated state law or any internal UT System rule or policy. The Select Committee may disagree with actions taken by the Board, individual regents, the Chancellor or other System officials and may feel that other courses of action might have been more prudent or appropriate, but any allegation or insinuation of a loss of institutional control is completely erroneous. Individual regents have broad authority under the Texas Education Code and UT System rules and policies to inquire about matters at the System and at our institutions, and each has exercised this authority within the established parameters. Furthermore, UT System officers at all times have been fully compliant with the Texas Education Code and Regents’ Rules.

While I and others may not always concur with the style and methods employed by Regent Wallace Hall, I will affirm that he has always diligently worked to further what he sees as the best interests of the UT System.

The UT System has always worked cooperatively and collegially with the Texas Legislature and its committees and members, as we have done over these past several months with the Select Committee. The Board does not believe, however, that the extraordinary and unprecedented degree of legislative oversight set forth in the motion is justified or necessary. Nor do we believe it appropriate or fair that the costs of the work of the Select Committee, authorized by the House of Representatives alone, be imposed on the System.

Notwithstanding the views expressed today by the Select Committee, the UT System Board of Regents has over the last several years continued to advance higher education in Texas and at each of our 15 institutions. Nowhere is this more evident than in our efforts to accelerate The University of Texas at Austin’s ascendancy to become America’s finest public research university, based on Chancellor Cigarroa’s Framework for Advancing Excellence Throughout the UT System. The Regents have unanimously and consistently supported recommendations made by Chancellor Cigarroa to provide UT Austin with resources to do this, including:

• Establishing the first new medical school at an AAU institution in 37 years

• Building a new engineering education and research center to ensure UT Austin’s preeminence as a national leader in a critically important discipline

• Awarding more than $500 million in additional funds beyond UT Austin’s steady stream of funding from the Available University Fund to support recruitment and retention of star faculty, invest in student programs, and much more

I appreciate and concur with the Select Committee’s praise of Chancellor Cigarroa when we testified before the committee last month. We look forward to working with the Texas Legislature in the months and years ahead to promote our mission of teaching, research, patient care and service.

 

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