TXEXplainer: The Wallace Hall Hearings

This week, members of a select legislative committee are returning to Austin from across the state to conduct a new round of hearings in the investigation of controversial UT regent Wallace Hall. Here are answers to some burning questions from alumni.

TXEXplainer: The Wallace Hall Hearings

Why are these hearings happening?

Wallace Hall, a member of the UT System Board of Regents, is under investigation for potential misuse of office. As a member of the System’s governing board, Hall has made massive, unprecedented requests for records (up to 800,00 pages) from UT-Austin. Now, a select Texas House committee may decide whether Hall’s actions are intended to oust president Bill Powers, and whether those actions—which have been characterized as “micromanaging“—could constitute grounds for impeachment.

So what is the committee, and what are they investigating?

Hall, a Dallas businessman, was appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011. He is being investigated by a Texas House of Representatives committee made up of four Republicans and four Democrats selected by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). Straus charged the committee to operate in the interim between sessions, and to investigate whether Hall did any or all of these specific things:

  • Purposefully left off certain lawsuits from his application to be a regent

  • Conducted burdensome records requests of UT-Austin that were characterized as board actions, but were in fact personal

  • Abused his office and public trust by violating regent rules, state code, and/or the Texas Constitution.

The committee does not need to find Hall guilty of any crime to recommend impeachment, though testimony during previous hearings has indicated that Hall may have violated federal privacy rules concerning sensitive student records.

How will committee members know if Hall should be impeached?

It’s up to them to determine whether Hall’s actions violated the public trust placed in public university and college regents. Only two other officials have been impeached in Texas history, and both were elected officials.

The members of the committee can recommend impeachment, which would then be taken up by the full House. If the House passes articles of impeachment, the Senate will then conduct an impeachment trial. The current hearings are not a trial, but are structured more like a grand jury investigation.

What’s important about this week’s hearings?

The committee is scheduled to hear from Powers and UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, the administrative leaders of the flagship university and the university system, respectively. Both are deeply involved in the issues being investigated.

Last week, at a System board meeting, Cigarroa acknowledged a “strained” relationship between himself and Powers as well as between Powers and the board, but recommended that Powers stay on as president, ending rumors that the board may vote to fire Powers.

The committee may also hear from experts who will testify on the role of university regents, potentially shining some light on the expectations of a regent.

Will the committee continue its work into 2014?

Possibly. It’s unknown whether members will continue with the investigation into a busy election year. The committee has thus far failed to subpoenea Hall himself, who has expressed a willingness to testify only if subpoenaed. Hall is not expected to testify this week, having denied an invitation from the committee.

Much of the discussion of the committee members, at least in public meetings, has centered on Hall’s motivations, a topic which would likely be aided by Hall’s testimony. In previous remarks, Hall has denied any wrongdoing and claims he has been doing his duty as a regent


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