Regents Chairman Defends Embattled Colleague

Regents' Chairman Defends Embattled Colleague

The chairman of the UT System Board of Regents Gene Powell is coming to the aid of a colleague to combat “misinformation” regarding regent Wallace Hall’s service on the board. In a letter to state Rep. Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) obtained by Texas Monthly, Powell argues that Hall has performed his duties well and lived up to the trust placed in public university regents.

“I am aware of no instance of Regent Hall inappropriately sharing information that is confidential by law with others outside U.T. System and encourage you to identify any specific concerns you have in this area,” Powell said.

The letter was in response to an editorial penned by Pitts that criticized Hall’s document requests of UT-Austin and the ongoing investigation of the law school.

“To the extent the article and your opinion about Regent Hall’s service to U.T. System are based upon misinformation provided by anyone associated with The University of Texas System or a University of Texas institution,” Powell wrote, “I apologize and feel I must take this opportunity to provide you with the facts.”

He asserted that Hall’s document requests had resulted in “suggestions for process improvement and better governance at the UT System and at UT institutions.”

Members of a select Texas House committee on government transparency met this week to discuss the logistics and legalities of their newest charge: a potential impeachment investigation of the embattled UT System regent. Hall has been under fire for multiple document requests of UT-Austin and a continuing investigation into the relationship between the UT School of Law and the independent Law School Foundation.

On the day of the meeting, regents chair Gene Powell sent the letter to the powerful House member, whose accusations of a “witch hunt” against UT-Austin president Bill Powers and call to impeach Regent Hall led to the committee’s investigation.

Pitts serves as chair of the House appropriations committee, and he attached provisions to the 2014-15 state budget that limited some of the spending powers of UT’s governing board. The amendments were filed in response to accusations of “micromanagement” by regents of the Austin flagship and its president. The investigation into Hall’s conduct was added to the transparency committee’s agenda by House speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio)

In the letter, Powell also responded to criticisms of the ongoing law school investigation, crediting Hall for information that ultimately led to another round of inquiry.

The regents’ investigation initially centered on the process by which then-dean Larry Sager obtained a $500,000 forgivable loan, which was deemed inappropriate and not transparent. Sager resigned in 2011 at the behest of President Powers, himself a former law school dean.

Despite calls from lawmakers, including a majority of the Texas Senate, to end the investigation, regents chose to hire a third-party investigator to review the situation. A previous investigation was conducted by former UT System general counsel Barry Burgdorf and published in October 2012. Burgdorf announced his resignation in March, the same month the board voted to set aside Burgdorf’s investigation.

Referring to what he called errors in Burgdorf’s report, Powell wrote that Hall had identified the errors “as he read contradictory information” in files Hall had requested from UT-Austin.

Powell’s message also included a previously unreleased letter from several anonymous UT Law faculty members, in which the authors asked UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to investigate “hidden salary systems that our deans has used during the last five years to hide salary raises and to discriminate against women and minorities” at the law school.

The board chairman said the anonymous letter was a “key factor” in the regents’ decision to re-open the investigation.

A source close to the situation notes that the anonymous letter was sent to the UT System, not to UT-Austin, through Cigarroa and was eventually given to Burgdorf. Powell claims that the letter had not previously been brought to the board’s attention and was not included in Burgdorf’s report.

In his July 7 editorial, Pitts criticized Hall’s repeated inquiries into the Law School, calling them “burdensome, wasteful, and obstructive.” The legislator also called out Hall’s multiple document requests of UT-Austin, some of which may have included confidential student information, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“Taxpayers expect legislators to ensure that Hall and other appointees provide appropriate leadership for the public institutions and state agencies they oversee,” Pitts wrote.

Asked for comment, UT-Austin administration did not delve into commentary or specifics.

“This is a discussion between Chairman Powell and Chairman Pitts,” said University spokesman Gary Susswein.

Read Powell’s full message below.

Gene Powell’s letter by Andrea Valdez

Photo courtesy Matt Valentine.


Tags: , , , , , ,


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment