Trustees | Trusteeship

University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall Jr. Becomes a Lightning Rod

Texas Lawmakers Move to Impeach Board Member Over Push for Documents
WALL STREET JOURNAL   |  June 15, 2014 by Nathan Koppel

Since Wallace Hall Jr. was appointed to serve on the board of the University of Texas in 2011, he has sought thousands of pages of records to try to root out potential wrongdoing at the university.

Now, the Dallas businessman faces possible impeachment from state lawmakers after a legislative probe concluded Mr. Hall went too far, improperly using confidential student records and filing unduly burdensome document requests. “While serving as a regent, Hall acted like a roving inspector general in search of a problem,” said the report, which alleged Mr. Hall had obtained confidential emails about applicants to the school.

Mr. Hall and a lawyer for the university board said his use of student information didn’t break any privacy laws, and he and his supporters say he is the victim of political payback for exposing what they say are uncomfortable truths about the university—including showing that applicants whom legislators pushed for admission were accepted at a much higher rate than the population at large, and that many of the recommendation letters showed no signs that the lawmakers even knew the applicants all that well.

The dispute over Mr. Hall is part of a broader fight between the nine-member board and school officials over whether the university has done enough to lower costs and keep a lid on tuition increases, a debate with parallels in other states. The University of Virginia board ousted school President Teresa Sullivan in 2012 partly because of concerns she wasn’t moving quickly enough to address budget challenges. The board later reinstated Ms. Sullivan after faculty and alumni protested.

“As more questions are being asked about the costs of higher education, we need to have more engaged trustees, not less,” said Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which has defended Mr. Hall’s board tenure.

Mr. Hall, a 52-year-old University of Texas alumnus, has rejected requests that he resign to stave off the impeachment proceedings, which could make him only the third Texas official to be impeached by the legislature in the past 100 years. He said in an interview that he is fulfilling his oath to monitor a major university system that employs 90,000 people and has a $14.5 billion annual operating budget. “I disagree with the idea that board members need to be seen but not heard,” he said.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat who serves on the House committee drafting articles of impeachment against Mr. Hall, said Mr. Hall’s investigations of the university were excessive and had “left a stain.” The role of a university regent, he said, is “to be a supporter of campus institutions they represent.”

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has appointed all the current board members, disagrees.

“Hall is doing exactly what every regent and every appointee in the state of Texas should be doing: asking tough questions, gathering facts and searching for the truth,” Mr. Perry said in a statement last month, adding, “Texans should be outraged by his treatment.”

An inquiry by the university into Mr. Hall’s claims released last month found no evidence of a “quid pro quo” or other admissions wrongdoing involving the legislators. But the inquiry cited “reason for concern” and recommended a fuller examination of certain admissions practices. It noted that half of the 16 law-school applicants supported by legislators, including four with low grade-point averages and standardized-test scores, were admitted, well above state residents’ 22.5% average admission rate in that period.

Similarly, 58% of undergraduates that lawmakers recommended were admitted, a “disproportionately high” number far above the average admission rate of about 23%, according to the preliminary inquiry. It found that most of the legislator letters didn’t contain “any significant substantive information about the applicant.”

“When he raised that issue, thermonuclear destruction was visited on him,” said Mr. Hall’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, adding that his client has behaved lawfully at all times.

After Mr. Hall publicly disclosed his allegations of admissions favoritism at the university last summer, state Rep. Jim Pitts, the Republican head of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, told several media outlets that he was one lawmaker who had written a letter of recommendation, in this case for his son, who was admitted to the University of Texas Law School.

Mr. Pitts, who later said he was resigning from public office, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

the state legislators also referred their investigative report to state prosecutors in Austin, who have said they are looking into the matter. There has been no determination about whether any laws were broken.


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