Powers: Controversy Has Done UT Harm

Regent Wallace Hall skipped Wednesday’s hearing, as legislators met for the last time to hear testimony on the embattled regent’s actions. Hall’s absence prompted scolding from lawmakers, who said his failure to appear represented a “slap in the face.”

Powers: Controversy Has Done UT Harm

The inquiry into the actions of UT System regent Wallace Hall is coming to its conclusion after hours of testimony and reams of documents on Hall’s behavior since being appointed to the UT governing board by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011.

While they mull over whether Hall deserves to be impeached, committee members will do so without the direct input of one crucial witness: Hall himself, who said he would only appear before the group if subpoenaed. The committee refused to subpoena Hall without him first agreeing to testify, and on numerous occasions they asked him to provide documents and to meet with the committee members privately. Hall turned down all invitations, on the advice of his attorney, prompting committee co-chair Dan Flynn (R-Canton) to call the regent’s unwillingness to testify at Wednesday’s hearing a “slap in the face.” Other members opened yesterday’s session with comments calling Hall’s attitude toward the panel disrespectful.

Testimony over the day-long meeting continued to paint a picture of Hall acting outside the norm for a public university regent. Former System regents Scott Caven, BBA ’64, LLB ’67, Life Member, and John Barnhill, BJ ’59, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, spoke on the role of regents, and UT chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and UT-Austin president Bill Powers talked legislators through the convoluted web of events that has led to the probe into Hall’s actions, indicating that those actions have harmed the University and its reputation.

Hall has conducted a number of requests for data from UT-Austin, asking officials for an unprecedented amount of documents—more than 800,000 pages, according to earlier testimony. The requests have fueled rumors that Hall is aiming to oust Powers. Hall has requested data both as an individual regent and as a private citizen, moves that Caven and Barnhill confirmed were abnormal.

Previous testimony also indicated that Hall may have violated privacy rules by sharing protected student data with his personal attorneys. Wednesday’s testimony implied that Hall also acted outside his prescribed duties by seeking a forensic analysis of the UT Law School Foundation’s computers, personally disputing UT-Austin’s fundraising policy, and famously skirting administrators in the Tower and Bellmont by contacting the agent for Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

Cigarroa, the UT System’s top administrative officer, expressed discomfort with some of Hall’s actions, but repeatedly insisted that, with his recommendation last week to keep Powers on as president, he and Powers were prepared to move past the controversy. That didn’t stop legislators from questioning Cigarroa for several hours on multiple events since Hall joined the Board in 2011.

Powers echoed the sentiment of reconciliation, and explained several events involving Hall, notably a 2o12 meeting with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), an organization that sets college fundraising standards, at which Hall argued against UT-Austin’s interpretation of a fundraising rule. Committee member Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) indicated Hall had angled to fire the law firm defending UT-Austin’s position in the CASE meeting, which Powers said he did not personally attend.

Powers also said that UT has been hurt in real ways, claiming that Hall’s requests and the fallout from them has cost UT more than $1 million. He noted that the University had lost an unnamed star football recruit, and claimed that campus officials were “worried sick” that student records might be compromised through Hall’s requests. Both Cigarroa and Powers said the ordeal had hurt morale, and Powers noted that the scandal has weakened UT’s ability to recruit and retain world-class students and faculty.

The series of hearings ended with a promise that committee co-chairs Flynn and Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) would send UT and the System letters outlining areas of follow-up. Flynn also told reporters that committee counsel Rusty Hardin’s contract had been extended through January and possibly February for Hardin to draft recommendations for committee action.

Photo courtesy Matt Valentine.


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