Setting the Record Straight: Charles Matthews on the Regent Controversy


This article originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

There are those of us who welcome a respite in the proliferation of negative political ads now that the primary season is over. But for those who thirst for more drama, innuendo and half-truths, look no further than the attacks on the University of Texas at Austin, fallout from the work of the Legislative Transparency Committee involving the potential impeachment of a University of Texas System regent.

Some critics of the process have seemed to adopt the tactics and characteristics of a political campaign. The latest salvo involves the attack on the admission process at the University of Texas School of Law, and to some extent, the undergraduate admission process, as well. The critics have chosen to focus on a small handful of students who they claim may have been admitted because of letters of recommendation from politicians. They have called for an investigation.

The truth is that such a review has already been conducted by the UT system. After a nine-month inquiry, the report released to the public “did not uncover any evidence of a systematic, structured or centralized process of reviewing and admitting applicants recommended by influential individuals.” The report also states that there was a lack of “any evidence of a quid pro quo for admission decisions, or other wrongdoing.” Alas, this must not have been the answer the critics wanted, and thus the call for another investigation.

To justify their demand, they have chosen to highlight the UT Law alumni’s 59 percent passage rate on the February bar exam, as if to say there must be some quality issues at UT as a result of what they refer to as the admission of “politically connected students.” This cherry-picking of data is interesting, but it is misleading if it calls into question the quality of the UT law school and its students.

Every lawyer that follows the pass-fail rate of the Texas Bar exam through the years knows that UT has always been at or near the top in the percentage of students that pass. The February numbers were an anomaly and reflected a very small sample size of 17 students. Historically, most graduates of any law school take the exam in July, and more than 90 percent of UT grads often pass on the first try.

This is the part of the story that politically inspired negative ads conveniently leave out. It is a disservice to the exemplary students at UT and to the reputation of a nationally recognized law school.

UT-Austin’s holistic admissions policy was approved by the UT System Board of Regents in 2004 and allows the university to review applicants’ complete backgrounds and life experiences, including their academic achievement and personal successes. Many times, this information comes from letters of recommendation from a variety of sources. Such letters are not required but can be instructional.

Not surprisingly, the university sometimes receives such recommendations from lawmakers, regents, state officeholders and other notables. The UT System report identified no wrongdoing in admissions but did suggest a review of how such letters are to be processed. The chancellor and the university have publicly committed to work together to establish clear guidelines.

This is the rational approach to the findings of the UT System report — rather than another costly and burdensome investigation, fueled only by innuendo and speculation by the critics that some student, at some time, must have been admitted because of political connections.

The report found none, but the system and the university are on the right track to head off any such issue in the future that would whet the thirst for more political drama.

Charles Matthews, BA ’67, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, is the president of the Texas Exes. 


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