By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org
AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas System is conducting a formal inquiry into admissions favoritism at its flagship campus, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said Wednesday.
Attorneys from the Chancellor’s office are looking into the qualifications of 70 undergraduate applicants and 16 law school students who were recommended by lawmakers.
Cigarroa revealed the extent of the inquiry during testimony before a select House committee that’s been drumming up reasons to impeach Wallace Hall, a whistleblowing regent.
“I’ve got concerns that there are external influences involved in the admissions of students,” Cigarroa said. “I’m looking at a cohort of students. I’m looking at the process.”
The revelation follows a report by Watchdog.org that children of three influential state lawmakers — Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Sen. John Carona, and Rep. Jim Pitts — had been admitted to UT Law School, yet unlike their peers, repeatedly struggled to pass the bar exam.
Zaffirini and Carona’s children have failed the bar three times each, and Pitts’ son Ryan has failed it twice.
Ryan Pitts’ qualifications for law school, particularly his poor score on the Law School Admissions Test, have come up several times before in testimony, although his name hadn’t often.
Rep. Ferdinand “Trey” Fischer asked Cigarroa why his office was continuing to look into the qualifications of Ryan Pitts “nine days after Jim Pitts comes to this committee and admits that he helped his son” get into law school. “Nine days later, you are accommodating a request to confirm whether or not he retook the LSAT.”
It wasn’t just about Ryan Pitts, Cigarroa said.
“This is not just a study of one person,” Cigarroa said. “This is a study of a group of people who’ve had a letter of recommendation from people from… outside the university.”
The inquiry started in August, Cigarroa said, after he saw an email concerning whether to admit Pitts.
“There was an email from the (then) dean of the law school, Larry Sager, to Nancy Brazzil (an assistant to UT President Bill Powers) regarding — the student was going to have to retake the LSAT and substantially improve that LSAT score or go to another school. We don’t know what happened,” as Ryan Pitts was admitted, and the school has no record of a better LSAT score.
“Is that an isolated event, or is that more than an isolated event,” Cigarroa asked.
Fischer pressed him to say that Hall was the reason for the inquiry.
“If there are questions about the integrity of an admissions process, this chancellor is going to look at it,” Cigarroa said. “A regent didn’t ask me to do it.”
Cigarroa also set Fischer straight on a number that he’s been misusing. Fischer has repeatedly said that 1,200 out of 1,279 records requests the university had dealt with in recent years were for Hall, when the original testimony was that he had gotten copies of that many records requests, most of them made by other people.
In the past two years, there have been 202 information requests by all nine regents, Cigarroa said.
The hearing began with the committee co-chairs Reps. Dan Flynn and Carol Alvarado expressing mock outrage that Hall had not accepted a disingenuous invitation to testify.
Every previous witness had been subpoenaed, as Rep. Charles Perry noted. That insulated them from any risk of violating a vague but broad federal student privacy law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.
Since FERPA doesn’t apply to testimony given under subpoena, Hall would have been free to name names of lawmakers misusing their clout. He had requested a subpoena, but the committee ignored him.
Flynn insisted that Hall had “been afforded every opportunity” to speak but had “voluntarily chosen not to do so,” adding that “the letters from his lawyer have been offensive.”
The committee’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, insisted that the decision not to issue a subpoena was a matter of principal.
“I’ve always thought it was wrong to compel the subject of investigation to testify,” he said.
Powers also testified in general terms about damage to the university’s reputation caused by the controversy.
“It’s been a tremendous distraction and hindrance to moving the university ahead,” he said.
As for his relationship with the Board of Regents, Powers said, “Some of them don’t want me to be the president. That’s not very pleasant. They have their reasons.”
Contact Jon Cassidy at email@example.com or @jpcassidy000
- Texas’ Rep. Pitts announces retirement after improper influence story
- University of Texas regents show support for Wallace Hall
- Case against UT regent Wallace Hall is a sham — here’s proof
- Texas senator got $477k for supposed ‘cameo’ appearance in Wallace Hall lawsuit
- Lawmaker admits pulling strings on UT admissions
- Trustee accused of crime for rejecting dodgy accounting
- Longhorns: Senator used clout in UT law school admissions
- Children of Texas lawmakers get into UT School of Law, but struggle to pass bar exam
- Chancellor is probing favoritism in UT admissions
- UT report: Charge against Hall is legally ‘absurd’
- Attorney in UT case hides six-figure charges despite terms of contract
- University of Texas clout scandal grows as new e-mails surface
- Four more get into UT Law despite low LSATs
- Reports on UT favoritism, impeachment expected soon
- Attorney: Secret tape covered up by lawmakers proves regent’s innocence
- Dozens of UT Law’s least qualified students are connected politically
- University of Texas uncovers admissions corruption, halts investigation
- UT admissions: Straus, Branch, Pitts pulled strings
- Who got the 128? UT Law admits students with bad LSAT scores
- Patrick’s win may doom Hall impeachment effort
- Chancellor promises complete investigation of UT admissions
- Board to decide UT president’s fate Thursday
- Texas politicians smarten up, ditch UT pres this time around
- Tribune story may have doomed UT’s Powers
- Academics condone the privilege they denounce
- Three essential stories on the UT admissions scandal
- Texas AG Greg Abbott embraces Roe v. Wade
- Roe v. Wade is AG’s new pretext for blocking Texas law school investigation
- Two UT regents pressed for records destruction
- New crime invented for Hall: assisted guesswork
- Texas lawmaker failed to disclose his own clout letter in UT flap
- Texas legislator Fischer insists on role in UT investigation
- Hutchison pulled strings for friends’ kids and grandkids at UT
- Ex-UT Law dean’s credit card bill: $400k in four years
- Abbott’s UT picks are pro-affirmative action
- Report: University of Texas showed favoritism to thousands
- Kroll ignored hundreds of weak UT applications
- Billionaire defends UT admissions privileges for ‘leaders’
- Weak admissions to University of Texas Law increased after Sager’s ouster
- Kroll report takes dig at Watchdog.org
- Hicks won’t stop UT’s backdoor admits
- Texas governor’s wife was on UT nominee’s payroll
- Bill to limit UT oversight clears committee
- UT regent blasts speaker for ‘abuse of office’
- Texas politician rebuts himself with apparently plagiarized letter
- Pay-to-play scandal involves UT dean, Texas Exes
- Supreme Court asked to look at UT’s backdoor admissions program
- Lawmakers want UT applications shielded from scrutiny
- McRaven makes UT scandal his own
- An open letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton on the UT cover-up
- Chancellor Bill McRaven’s UT cover-up has no defenders
- UT’s back door still open, but can’t stay secret, AG rules
- Whitewash: Kroll left dozens of bad LSATs out of UT report
- McRaven’s defense to Hall lawsuit refuted by own words
- Ready for the end of affirmative action?
- UT admissions scandal is 10 times bigger than official report
- McRaven trolls Dallas Morning News
- Powers to get top salary at UT Law
- UT sues to block Watchdog access to admissions investigation
- UT approves ‘Spinal Tap’ policy for backdoor admissions
- Admissions survey: No, UT, everybody doesn’t do it
- UT admissions scandal prompts new investigation
- Ticket scandal a black mark for UT, DA
- Showdown over UT cover-up nears end