Hall: ‘I Can Choose My Actions. I Can’t Choose My Consequences’

Hall: "I Can Choose My Actions. I Can't Choose the Consequences"

Speaking in front of a packed house on campus Saturday, UT System regent Wallace Hall defended himself against charges that he may have overstepped his bounds as a public university regent, insisting he’s done nothing illegal and that he is motivated by his responsibility to students and to the taxpayers of Texas. In a discussion with state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), Hall maintained that his actions have been completely in bounds.

The talk was part of the Texas Tribune’s Tribune Festival, a weekend-long gathering on Texas public-policy issues with a specific track on higher education. Hall is currently under investigation by a select Texas House committee charged with determining whether Hall has mismanaged the UT System in a way that would warrant his impeachment. The committee was called into action by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who earlier in the day pointedly told a Tribune Festival crowd that he only wanted a transparent process.

“I don’t care whether they give [Hall] the medal of honor or hang him from a tree,” Straus said, adding that he didn’t mean the phrase literally. Straus also said that one of his motivations for initiating an investigation was that he had felt threatened by the UT System regents to back off of an investigation of Hall or have some of his members smeared, and Straus wanted to protect his members. Hall later disputed Straus’ assertion, saying impeaching him was hardly in the public’s best interest.

Throughout the conversation, Watson maintained that much of the tension that defined this year’s legislative session—and which ultimately led to the investigation of Hall—is caused by regents taking action as individuals, rather than collectively. Watson noted that the rules governing regents, from the regent’s own rules to the Texas Constitution, vests power in boards, not individual regents.

Hall’s discussion with an agent for Alabama football coach Nick Saban was cited as one instance of possible regent overreach, though Hall insisted he was involved only briefly and at the instruction of then-chairman Gene Powell. His account differed from an Associated Press story from Friday evening that cited booster and former regent Tom Hicks saying Hall insisted on being on the call with Saban’s agent.

Hall, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, has been scrutinized by some legislators for his massive document requests of UT-Austin. The University has characterized these requests as “burdensome” and legislators like House budget chairman Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) claim they are part of a “witch hunt” to oust UT-Austin president Bill Powers. Hall has made open-records requests of the University both in his capacity as a regent and as a private citizen.

“I’ve made numerous records requests as a private citizen because I cannot get answers from UT-Austin as a regent,” Hall said. As an example, Hall said he asked for a copy of the agreement between the University and the Longhorn Network but was told the document was confidential and that UT-Austin did not have a copy of it. University officials disputed Hall’s claim after the panel, saying the open-records office has no record of Hall asking to see the agreement, which is actually between UT, its agency IMG, and Longhorn Network’s parent company, ESPN. If Hall would like to see the agreement, officials said, they would provide it, adding that the document has been disclosed in previous open-records requests.

The panel was styled as a discussion of the role of regents, a contentious issue between members of the UT board and legislators, some of whom Hall has accused of using undue influence to affect admissions at UT-Austin. Hall maintained that the role of a regent is fluid and rarely agreed upon. The defining characteristic, he said, is a regent’s fiduciary duty, or public trust.

“Simply wrapping oneself in the cloak of a fiduciary doesn’t immunize that person from inappropriate conduct,” Watson responded.

“I can choose my actions,” Hall said, “I can’t choose my consequences. I’m very comfortable that, in that everything I’ve done, I’ve done appropriately and legally.” The regent noted that he had doubts about the legitimacy of the investigation into his actions, concerns echoed by Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) in a letter to the committee chairs.

Earlier this month, the committee met in an executive session to determine the group’s scope and schedule. Hall expressed disagreement with the process, in which Hall’s lawyers can suggest witnesses but not call or cross-examine them.

The committee is expected to meet next on October 22-23.

Tim Taliaferro contributed to this reporting. Photo courtesy of Matt Valentine.


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