By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org
AUSTIN — The University of Texas Board of Regents threw support to embattled regent Wallace Hall at its meetings this week, approving two measures to reform problems that Hall has spotlighted.
Regents voted for new policies on the relationship between universities and their affiliated foundations, and also approved an audit into how officials respond to public information requests.
Hall is synonymous with both issues. He pointed out financial shenanigans at the University of Texas Law School Foundation, and pressed the University of Texas at Austin for public records by the box load.
For his troubles, UTA President Bill Powers’ allies in the Legislature have initiated impeachment proceedings against Hall.
But the regents don’t appear inclined to allow their executive authority to be usurped by a small band of legislators. A board majority that already tilted toward Hall got stronger this week with three new regents taking their seats, and Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa is challenging the insolence of officials at the UTA who have been refusing to turn over documents to regents.
On Wednesday, Cigarroa recommended “a targeted compliance review” of how officials at at UTA and elsewhere handle requests under the Texas Public Information Act.
The review comes after Kevin Hegarty, a UTA vice-president, said earlier this month that UTA would defy document requests from their lawful overseers in the chancellor’s office and on the board of regents on the grounds that a House committee with no executive authority might also be interested in some of the records. The House committee had sent Hegarty sent a letter and called it a Document Preservation Notice, apparently even using capital letters.
With the condescension of a librarian addressing a sticky-fingered schoolboy, Hegarty told his superiors that files he’d gotten back from the regents “seem to have been tossed back into the boxes at random,”which would hinder him from making any official proclamations of orderliness the House committee might want.
UT systemwide compliance officer Larry Plutko will lead the audit and prepare his findings by Oct. 31. Among his tasks will be examining “processes on notifying the correct executive officers and employees to provide responsive documents.” That sounds dull enough, but it means seeing whether officials are searching through email databases for all responsive documents, or just asking the subjects of investigations whether they have anything relevant.
A task force chaired by Brenda Pejovich produced a list of recommendations on policies defining the relationship of universities to their affiliated foundations. In short, the foundations need to be established as either part of a school, or as independent.
The task force recommended signing memoranda of understanding with clear definitions for each foundation and establishing transparency and conflict-of-interest policies.
The financial dealings of the foundations, in particular the University of Texas Law School Foundation, have been a subject of controversy since late 2011, when Larry Sager, dean of the law school, was asked to resign after it was discovered he had received a $500,000 forgivable loan from the foundation.
The forgivable loan program was not widely known, but Sager has insisted it wasn’t secret.
Contact Jon Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jpcassidy000.
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