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Hutchison pulled strings for friends’ kids and grandkids at UT

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Part 33 of 72 in the series Trouble in Texas
Photo from official Hutchison handout

FRIENDLY: Hutchison wrote at least a dozen letters to Powers on behalf of her friends’ kids and grandkids.

By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org

HOUSTON — Former U.S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison sits on a committee tasked with finding the next president of the University of Texas, after Bill Powers submitted his resignation in July amid a scandal over favoritism shown to lawmakers in the admissions process.

If the university is seeking a president less susceptible to political influence than Powers, Hutchison makes an unlikely figure to consult, as she has been an avid string-puller for years.

A public records request turned up a dozen letters Hutchison sent directly to Powers in recent years, asking that he admit the children and grandchildren of her friends.

Though these letters are often termed recommendation letters, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa recently banned universities from considering recommendations sent directly to presidents and deans, rather than admissions officers, because they undermine the proper procedures.

“It is of the utmost importance that all letters of recommendation for any prospective college admissions applicant must be submitted through the established campus process, never directly to a president or a dean,” he wrote in a memo.

A report on admissions favoritism produced by his office this year found the “problem is that submitting such letters to the president, instead of or even in addition to submitting them through the prescribed processes, creates the appearance of an admissions process that gives undue and unfair opportunities to those with connections to state legislators.”

Hutchison’s letters tend to follow a script. First she mentions the personal connection: “She is the granddaughter of my good friend;” “He is the son of my good friend;” “Her grandparents… are good friends,” etc.

Then there is a paragraph reciting some qualifications plainly pulled off a resume: so-and-so is on the honor roll, or served at a soup kitchen, or speaks conversational Spanish — all stuff that’s already in the applicant’s file.

Then she usually adds a handwritten note: “She is terrific and her family is wonderful!” “He is a very special young man,” underlining very.

Two of the applicants had already been rejected, and Hutchison sought to have the decision reversed. All but one of the letters were written on U.S. Senate letterhead.

One important difference between Hutchison’s letter-writing and the clout employed by state lawmakers is that, as a U.S. senator, she didn’t have the direct control of UT’s budget that the education and appropriations committee chairs in the statehouse do.

Hutchison remains influential in other ways, of course. She is president of UT’s alumni association, Texas Exes, which has waged a vigorous campaign in defense of Powers. As president of Texas Exes, she was one of eight people named to the search committee automatically, under the regents’ rules. There are seven others who were chosen by the board.

The dozen letters from Hutchison puts her in first place among others known to have interceded with Powers. Runners up include state House Speaker Joe Straus and two of his lieutenants, Reps. Dan Branch and Jim Pitts, each of whom has sent at least seven letters.

Cigarroa’s inquiry found evidence the letters from state lawmakers were highly effective. Undergraduate applicants backed by a legislator got into UT at a rate of 58.7 percent, while the acceptance rate for all Texas applicants for non-automatic admission was 15.8 percent between 2009 and 2013.

A “disproportionately high number of applicants were admitted notwithstanding the fact that most of the legislator letters did not contain any significant substantive information about the applicant,” the report concluded. In fact, “in more than one-half of them, there is no evidence that the author of the letter even knows the student, much less knows him or her well.”

Or, as Hutchison added in a personal note to one of her “Dear Bill” letters, “I don’t know her personally, but she comes highly recommended by my friends.”

Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.

Part of 72 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
  34. Ex-UT Law dean’s credit card bill: $400k in four years
  35. Abbott’s UT picks are pro-affirmative action
  36. Report: University of Texas showed favoritism to thousands
  37. Kroll ignored hundreds of weak UT applications
  38. Billionaire defends UT admissions privileges for ‘leaders’
  39. Weak admissions to University of Texas Law increased after Sager’s ouster
  40. Kroll report takes dig at Watchdog.org
  41. Hicks won’t stop UT’s backdoor admits
  42. Texas governor’s wife was on UT nominee’s payroll
  43. Bill to limit UT oversight clears committee
  44. UT regent blasts speaker for ‘abuse of office’
  45. Texas politician rebuts himself with apparently plagiarized letter
  46. Pay-to-play scandal involves UT dean, Texas Exes
  47. Supreme Court asked to look at UT’s backdoor admissions program
  48. Lawmakers want UT applications shielded from scrutiny
  49. McRaven makes UT scandal his own
  50. An open letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton on the UT cover-up
  51. Chancellor Bill McRaven’s UT cover-up has no defenders
  52. UT’s back door still open, but can’t stay secret, AG rules
  53. Whitewash: Kroll left dozens of bad LSATs out of UT report
  54. McRaven’s defense to Hall lawsuit refuted by own words
  55. Ready for the end of affirmative action?
  56. UT admissions scandal is 10 times bigger than official report
  57. McRaven trolls Dallas Morning News
  58. Powers to get top salary at UT Law
  59. UT sues to block Watchdog access to admissions investigation
  60. UT approves ‘Spinal Tap’ policy for backdoor admissions
  61. Admissions survey: No, UT, everybody doesn’t do it
  62. UT admissions scandal prompts new investigation
  63. Ticket scandal a black mark for UT, DA
  64. Showdown over UT cover-up nears end
  65. McRaven’s rationale for UT cover-up denounced by regents, AG
  66. High court to decide if University of Texas can deep-six investigation
  67. High court hears arguments on whether UT can bury investigation
  68. Testimony by UT contradicts story fed high court
  69. These ‘horns ain’t loyal, McRaven finds
  70. UT’s Hall challenges Abbott over board picks
  71. Texas Supreme Court nullifies rule of law; impunity to reign
  72. The battle for the Kroll records goes on

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Jon Cassidy was a former Houston-based reporter for Watchdog.org.