Law School Foundation Leaders Respond to Claims of Impropriety

Law School Foundation Leaders Respond to Claims of Impropriety

In a letter Monday, officers of the University of Texas Law School Foundation (LSF) spoke out against claims that the foundation was involved in secretive and illegal “pay-out schemes” regarding faculty compensation at the University of Texas School of Law. The statement, signed by LSF president John Massey and vice president Robin Gibbs, was sent to conservative political activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Decrying what they called Sullivan’s “false, defamatory and malicious” claims, Massey and Gibbs asked Sullivan to take back the letters’ contentions. “On behalf of the Foundation’s Trustees we request a retraction of those statements.”

Refuting the so-called “false assertions” in letters Sullivan sent on May 21 and June 2, Massey and Gibbs outlined how the foundation operates and its core purposes: to fund scholarships and provide funds to the law school for incentive pay.

In his May letter to members of his political nonprofit Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (or Empower Texans), Sullivan praised the embattled UT System regent, Wallace Hall, who is at the heart of many of the controversies surrounding UT-Austin, and who is currently being considered for impeachment by the Texas Legislature. Calling Hall a whistle-blower, Sullivan alleges that Hall “uncovered a multi-million dollar payola scheme, rampant financial mismanagement, and perhaps even legislators abusing their powers to gain admission…”

A System report last month found that recommendation letters from legislators did give candidates a leg up (indeed, that is the stated and universally understood goal of a letter of recommendation), and found no evidence of wrongdoing at UT-Austin. Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has announced a System-wide review of admissions practices.

Regarding incentive pay, the foundation letter attempted to disprove Sullivan’s accusations. The LSF incentive pay is at the heart of the matter, one which was thought by many to be settled. In 2011, then-dean Larry Sager, who had previously received a $500,000 forgivable loan from the foundation, was fired when a UT System investigation found that Sager, despite foundation approval, had not used proper channels and essentially awarded himself the loan. The forgivable loans are designed to drawn the best faculty to colleges, schools, and universities across the country. Sometimes called “golden handcuffs,” the loans are often forgiven once the recipients meet certain terms, like staying on for a certain amount of time.

Sager’s loan prompted a System report by then-System general counsel Barry Burgdorf, who has since resigned. Burgdorf’s report was largely corroborated by the office of Attorney General Greg Abbott, BBA ’81, Life Member. Despite objections from some board members, the UT System Board of Regents audit committee ordered a third investigation last March. The foundation has since stopped awarding forgivable loans.

In the letter, Massey and Gibbs assert that the foundation’s work is crucial to sustaining the financial aid many UT law students require. “And it is those same law students,” they write, “who are most seriously harmed by the kind of false and irresponsible statements contained in your letters.”

An opponent of House speaker Joe Straus, Sullivan has recently accused Straus and other legislators of peddling influence and helping cover up illegal or illicit activities at UT-Austin. Last year, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility began sending campaign-style mailers to voters around the state accusing legislators of colluding with university leadership to cover up “payola schemes.” In December, a mailer sent in the district of state Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), whose House transparency committee is currently drafting suggested articles of impeachment for Hall, insisted that lawmakers were scapegoating Hall and covering up malfeasance at the university.

The transparency committee was called upon by speaker Straus (R-San Antonio) last year to investigate Hall, who is accused of overstepping his role as a regent, conducting burdensome and unusual investigations of UT-Austin, arguing against university interests, and potentially breaking federal privacy regulations regarding protected student records. Last month, the committee voted 7-1 that ground to impeach Hall do exist. The only vote against came from state Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), one of two members of the committee who have received campaign donations from Sullivan’s Empower Texans PAC. The other was Alvarado’s co-chair, Dan Flynn (R-Van).

Sullivan has leveled numerous accusations at UT and many lawmakers over the course of recent tensions between the UT System board and UT-Austin administrators, as well as legislators. The June mailer from Texans for Fiscal Responsibility explicitly accused Straus of covering up impropriety at UT, and of hand-picking the committee investigating Hall. The transparency committee, however, was formed in January 2013, nearly six months before Straus referred Hall’s case to members. It was initially formed to investigate the state’s troubled cancer research entity, CRPIT.

You can read the full letter from Massey and Gibbs below. Can’t see the letter? Click here.

Letter to Michael Quinn Sullivan

Photo of UT Law School by Valerie Cook.


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