Whose side is AGB—the Association of Governing Boards—on? One would think that an organization with that name would be in favor of empowered trustees. But think again.
AGB is, first and foremost, a presidents’ organization. And that has never been clearer now that it has weighed in against trustee Wallace Hall in a lawsuit concerning trustee access to information.
Mr. Hall is the fearless University of Texas (UT) regent who was subjected to public criticism and legislative strong-arming as he sought information about such matters as unethical practices in UT’s admissions and the “forgivable loan” favors given out by the UT law school. Top administrators and their powerful friends were heavily involved in these matters, and they wanted to keep wraps on the information. It was Hall’s dogged pursuit that brought sunlight onto a broad admissions scandal and other irregularities so serious that they resulted in the departure of then–University of Texas president Bill Powers. Powers had refused to turn over the documents necessary to investigate and understand the deep problems at UT. Hall could obtain this information only with a public-records demand, and in doing so, he fulfilled his official duty as a trustee.
Prompted by Mr. Hall’s experience, ACTA last year urged the country’s governing boards to be more engaged stewards of the public interest by insisting on data necessary to fulfill their fiduciary duties.
It seems the folks at AGB think differently.
In an amicus brief filed in Texas court, AGB sides with UT Chancellor William McRaven, claiming that Regent Hall has “never articulated a specific or legitimate need” for the documents he seeks—despite evidence of secret loan deals and widespread admissions irregularities. In a last-minute pleading, filed just two days before the court was scheduled to consider the matter, AGB referenced not a single legal precedent, urging trustees to avoid substantial document requests and instead to go to law-enforcement authorities if they think that illegality has occurred.
Who trusts trustees? The answer is ACTA, working hard to help trustees when they responsibly seek the information they need to protect the public interest.