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University of Texas regents show support for Wallace Hall

By   /   August 22, 2013  /   No Comments

Part 2 of 33 in the series Trouble in Texas

CIGARROA: called for an audit of UT Austin’s responsiveness to records requests.

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 jon@watchdog.org or @jpcassidy000.

Part of 33 in the series Trouble in Texas
  1. Texas’ Rep. Pitts announces retirement after improper influence story
  2. University of Texas regents show support for Wallace Hall
  3. Case against UT regent Wallace Hall is a sham — here’s proof
  4. Texas senator got $477k for supposed ‘cameo’ appearance in Wallace Hall lawsuit
  5. Lawmaker admits pulling strings on UT admissions
  6. Trustee accused of crime for rejecting dodgy accounting
  7. Longhorns: Senator used clout in UT law school admissions
  8. Children of Texas lawmakers get into UT School of Law, but struggle to pass bar exam
  9. Chancellor is probing favoritism in UT admissions
  10. UT report: Charge against Hall is legally ‘absurd’
  11. Attorney in UT case hides six-figure charges despite terms of contract
  12. University of Texas clout scandal grows as new e-mails surface
  13. Four more get into UT Law despite low LSATs
  14. Reports on UT favoritism, impeachment expected soon
  15. Attorney: Secret tape covered up by lawmakers proves regent’s innocence
  16. Dozens of UT Law’s least qualified students are connected politically
  17. University of Texas uncovers admissions corruption, halts investigation
  18. UT admissions: Straus, Branch, Pitts pulled strings
  19. Who got the 128? UT Law admits students with bad LSAT scores
  20. Patrick’s win may doom Hall impeachment effort
  21. Chancellor promises complete investigation of UT admissions
  22. Board to decide UT president’s fate Thursday
  23. Texas politicians smarten up, ditch UT pres this time around
  24. Tribune story may have doomed UT’s Powers
  25. Academics condone the privilege they denounce
  26. Three essential stories on the UT admissions scandal
  27. Texas AG Greg Abbott embraces Roe v. Wade
  28. Roe v. Wade is AG’s new pretext for blocking Texas law school investigation
  29. Two UT regents pressed for records destruction
  30. New crime invented for Hall: assisted guesswork
  31. Texas lawmaker failed to disclose his own clout letter in UT flap
  32. Texas legislator Fischer insists on role in UT investigation
  33. Hutchison pulled strings for friends’ kids and grandkids at UT

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Jon Cassidy is the Texas bureau chief for Watchdog.org. He also writes a weekly column on politics for The American Spectator. He was formerly a reporter and editor for The Orange County Register in California and a reporter at The Hill in Washington, D.C. His work has been published by Fox News, Reason, The Federalist, Human Events, and other publications. He is a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and a graduate of the University of Southern California. He and his wife Michelle live just outside Houston with their two children.

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