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UT: If you think the rules are wrong, then you don’t have to follow them

By   /   April 11, 2014  /   No Comments

AP photo

WHAT?: Charging? You clearly haven’t talked to my lawyers.

By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org

Imagine you’re driving to the basket and you bowl over a defender who had two feet planted.

The referee cups the back of his head and punches up the floor in the emphatic signal of an offensive foul.

But you don’t like it, so you grab the ball and walk to the free throw line to take your shots.

People are pointing and snickering, the ref’s about to T you up, but you know what you’re doing.

You wave your personal trainer over, who calmly explains to the referee that the rules of basketball were written by former athletes without sufficient input from experts in anatomy and kinesiology like himself.

Accordingly, he’s determined that a better rule would be that defenders have to be planted for a full two seconds before they can take a charge. He’s notified the NBA, the NCAA, and other governing bodies that they need to change the rules of basketball, and in the meantime, we’re going to play the new way.

Nobody in the stands is paying much attention, but there is one guy moaning in disbelief, just repeating, “But that’s a foul.”

You have him taken off to jail.

OK, the only way this metaphor works is if you’re Kim Jong Un.

Or Bill Powers. The guy in the stands is Wallace Hall, the personal trainer is the law firm of Vinson & Elkins, and the referee is CASE, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

The problem isn’t that University of Texas President Bill Powers challenges the rules. It’s that he thinks some mere opinion from a seat of no authority is good enough reason to ignore them.

If you want to understand his lawyerly sense that the rules don’t apply to him, take a look at this largely ignored scandal over inflated fundraising figures.

Powers was nailed dead-to-rights counting all sorts of non-monetary gifts like cash to boost his fundraising totals by an extra $215.3 million. A UT audit found that some 76 percent of the non-monetary gifts it examined had been wrongly counted as charitable gifts.

The big one was a three-year grant of some geological modeling software from a subsidiary of Halliburton called Landmark Graphics.

The software was valuable, but CASE, which is the body that sets the standards for university fundraising reporting, had long decided that “revocable” gifts, such as software licenses, “should not be included in official fundraising totals reported to CASE.”

That phrase is from the third edition of the rules, published in 2004, and the current standard is the same:  “The donor must irrevocably transfer ownership of the property to the university for the property to be considered a gift.”

Rusty Hardin, the attorney charged with finding pretexts to impeach Hall, pretends there was some confusion due to changing rules.

“The CASE standards … did not prohibit or discourage counting intellectual property grants like Landmark Graphics’ grant in a member school’s capital campaign at the time the grant was made in 2010,” he asserts wrongly, as revocable gifts had been disallowed since at least 2004.

There was a rule clarification in 2011 that said universities could keep a separate tally for grants and licenses and such, and it might be nice to report those, too, but they still couldn’t count them in the main fundraising totals they reported.

That’s the rule Powers disregarded. He was discovered by auditors, and was told at least three times in the Fall of 2012 to stop doing it, by the UT System on Aug. 14 and Sept. 5, and on Oct. 29, by the president of CASE after a hearing in Washington, D.C.

Yet two weeks later, UT again submitted inflated figures for national publication, as well as its year-end financial statements, and didn’t correct it until the UT System caught the error.

Hardin skips over the audit and ignores the fact that Powers disregarded orders, but he does offer a justification for Powers’ behavior. Powers hired lawyers at Vinson & Elkins to tell him CASE didn’t really know what it was doing — “the CASE guidelines had been written by development officers without apparent legal guidance,” they guessed. From that, they determined that CASE’s standard “should be reconsidered and that grants like those made by Landmark Graphics should be counted in CASE reports.”

So that’s how it works now. If you believe rules “should be reconsidered,” then you don’t have to follow them.

And if you think the rules should be followed, then we’ll railroad you from office.

Contact Jon Cassidy at jon@watchdog.org or @jpcassidy000. If you would like to send him documents or messages anonymously, download the Tor browser and go to our SecureDrop submission page: http://5bygo7e2rpnrh5vo.onion

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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.