Admissions Report Stresses Need for Clarity

Admissions Report Stresses Need for Clarity

Update: The UT System has announced the members of the committee formed to study the recommendations of the Kroll report. You can see the members here.

A small group of students are admitted to UT-Austin each year at the direction of the university’s president over the objections of admissions officers, a long-standing practice in admissions that has grown under the current administration. The news comes from a highly anticipated report on admissions practices commissioned by the University of Texas System.

The report indicates that while applicants to UT were not directly admitted in exchange for favors from legislators and other well-connected people, university president Bill Powers did request that certain applications receive extra attention. In some cases, Powers admitted students against the wishes of the university’s admissions department. In every case, Powers wrote in a response published on his Tower Talk blog, he was acting with the institution’s best interests in mind.

Those seeking to influence the admissions process included UT officials, donors, legislators, and the UT System’s own regents.

The report is the latest in a string of investigations of the UT flagship at the request of the Board of Regents. Regent Wallace Hall, who has spearheaded and supported investigating UT, has himself come under scrutiny. Hall was the subject of a legislative investigation last year that found potential grounds to impeach the regent, though the committee tasked with the investigation took no further action. The Travis County District Attorney’s office is currently looking into whether Hall shared certain protected students information with his lawyers over the course of the investigation.

“I inherited this process, which was well-known by regents, former chancellors, the board of regents’ office, and UT System officials, many of whom asked me to intervene on their behalf.”

Prepared by corporate investigation firm Kroll, the 100-plus page report notes that no rules, regulations, or laws were violated. In a separate press conference Thursday, UT System chancellor Bill McRaven said that no disciplinary action would be taken regarding the report, but that a committee would be established to review Kroll’s recommendations and that he would strive to ensure transparency in the admissions process.

“No doubt about it,” McRaven told reporters. “We are going to get this fixed.”

While the details of the report don’t indicate any illegal behavior, it does point to a system of admitting students that is not made public. Kroll investigators concluded that the system by which students were admitted outside of the standard “holistic admission” process was not revealed by Powers or his chief of staff, Nancy Brazzil, in an earlier system-led investigation into admissions practices. Powers said Thursday that the scope of that investigation was focused on letters of recommendation from lawmakers, not on the admissions process as a whole.

Investigators found the failure to disclose the entirety of the process “misleading.”

“At minimum,” they wrote, “[Powers and Brazzil] failed to speak with the candor and forthrightness expected of people in their respective positions of trust and leadership.”

Under at least the last six UT-Austin presidents, certain applications received a “hold” either by the president, a dean, or both. These holds, which are not mentioned in public-facing explanations of admissions, meant that an application could not be turned down until the party that made the hold was notified. The program of putting holds on certain applications was expanded during Powers’ tenure, which began in 2006, though the report indicates that this also coincides with the digitization of such records. Those reviewing applications could not see which applications had holds placed on them.

Over a five-year period, 73 students who would not have been admitted under regular circumstances were let in, a rate fewer than one in 1,000. Those admitted specifically under direction of the president’s office did not displace regularly admitted students, but were added to the incumbent class. While all regulations and rules indicate that the president of the university holds final decision-making power over admissions, the report concludes that the admissions process lacks institutional clarity.

“We think this is a thorough, and accurate, and good report,” Powers said at a press conference Thursday. He indicated that the practice described in the report is common and permissible, and that he felt vindicated by the report.

“I inherited this process, which was well-known by regents, former chancellors, the board of regents’ office, and UT System officials, many of whom asked me to intervene on their behalf,” Powers said.

When asked whether Hall himself had attempted to influence the admissions process, Powers said he had, but declined to comment further.

“The answer is yes,” Powers said. “Regent Hall has exhibited force over the admissions process.”

Powers pointed out that the state’s Top 10 Percent Law, which automatically admits top Texas high school students, fills 75 percent of each incoming class. That leaves only a quarter of all incoming students that the university truly selects under its holistic admissions process, which takes into account all aspects of an applicant’s achievements.

Regents met in Austin Thursday, but did not discuss or take action on the report during open session.

You can view the entire report below. Can’t see the document? Click here.

University of Texas at Austin – Investigation of Admissions Practices and Allegations of Undue Influence

 

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