Hall, Saban, and Cigarroa: The Higher Ed Week in Review

Hall, Saban, and Cigarroa: The Higher Ed Week in Review

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to correct an error. It originally stated that Regent Wallace Hall contacted Nick Saban’s agent when, in fact, it was Hall who was contacted. The Alcalde regrets the error.

Some may think it’s always true, but this week there was no doubt that higher education news revolved around UT.

AP reporter Jim Vertuno broke some of the biggest University of Texas higher ed news of the week, reporting that UT System regent Wallace Hall—yes, that Wallace Hall—*was contacted by an intermediary for Alabama football head coach and SEC folk hero Nick Saban last January, through Saban’s agent, about the possibility of stepping into Mack Brown’s very big, very worn out boots. No telling why that news leaked to the AP now, nine months after the call, but here’s the gist:

A few days after Alabama won the 2013 national championship, a University of Texas regent (Hall) and a former regent (Tom Hicks) talked with Nick Saban’s agent about the possibility of the Crimson Tide coach replacing Longhorns coach Mack Brown, The Associated Press has learned.

Joe Jamail, a billionaire trial lawyer who is one of the top donors to Texas, is Brown’s attorney. When asked about the conference call with Sexton and the lunch meeting, Jamail suggested Hall was acting on his own and threatened to sue anyone outside the university if they try to pressure Brown to resign.

“If there are any more, get ready for a lawsuit,” Jamail said. “Mack has publicly stated he wants to coach.”

In case you forgot, the field at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium is named after Jamail, BA ’50, JD ’53, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus. Thickening the plot further is the fact that UT-Austin president Bill Powers, who some have said is the target of a “witch hunt” orchestrated by Hall, first read about the exchange in online news reports this week.

Not missing an opportunity, Texas Monthly chimed in, playing on the ongoing tension between legislators, administrators, and UT System regents on the proper role of the governing board (and the Longhorn’s hit or miss defense):

…the 1-2 Horns are playing entirely like the product of an organization that has been going through the things UT has gone through for the past two years. They are exactly as disciplined at tackling as the Regents are disciplined at regenting.

The Texas House committee investigating Hall met on Monday to lay out the agenda for their investigation, meeting with legal counsel in an extended private meeting and establishing the goals of their look into Hall’s activities, including repeated document requests of UT-Austin. As the Alcalde reported:

The committee’s charge, as explained by the committee’s special counsel, Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin, is to determine whether the accusations are true, and if Hall overstepped his role as regent. The committee is also seeking to define the proper role of a regent in Texas.

“What standard is he measured by?’ Hardin asked rhetorically.

Hardin also made clear that all testimony and decisions of the committee would be made in open session, and that Hall’s lawyer would be able to submit affidavits and suggest witnesses.

In case there wasn’t enough politically-charged activity around the University this week, UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa wrote a letter to conservative political activist Michael Quinn Sullivan late this week. The letter was in response to a postcard sent to UT alumni by Sullivan’s group, Empower Texans, outlining what the mailer calls “financial malfeasance and apparent corruption.” As reported by the Houston Chronicle:

The mailing parroted the complaints that have been raised by Regent Wallace Hall, and seemed timed to bolster Hall as a Texas House committee begins its investigation of him for abusing his authority as a regent. Austin businessman Jeff Sandefer, a Hall friend and UT critic, is on the board of Empower Texans.

Today, UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa responded to the mailing.

In the letter, Cigarroa defends the University and the System, and denies any evidence of wrongdoing:

With respect to allegations that The University of Texas misreported “monetary” gifts, it is my assumption that the authors may have intended to refer to how “non-monetary” gifts were previously reported, and the matter of how UT Austin catalogued generous non-monetary software grants. That has since been resolved. …

The Board of Regents office and my office are always available to hear from constituents, and I urge that it be done in the most appropriate and respectful manner.

Photo by Marsha Miller courtesy of UT-Austin.


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