By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org
When Bill McRaven ran the Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC’s stated goal was simple: “know everything.”
Since McRaven has taken over as chancellor of the University of Texas, he’s gotten a lot more hostile to curiosity, telling Regent Wallace Hall that his desire to read the papers gathered by Kroll Associates for an investigation into the corruption of admissions practices “goes well beyond any reasonable desire to be better informed.”
It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a spook, who knows that secrecy is the key to impunity.
There is, however, no case to be made for impunity, no public interest served by impunity, no reason any of us should wish to absolve the powerful for their sins before they even confess.
In other words, there are no longer two sides to the University of Texas admissions scandal story. This long and tangled affair has become a very simple matter: either you favor accountability or impunity, honesty or secrecy, oversight or cover-up.
Journalists such as Rudolph Bush of the Dallas Morning News, Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer and Rick Cohen of Nonprofit Quarterly are writing up the many reasons UT should end the cover-up. And on the other side… crickets.
Last week, McRaven decided to defy the guidance of Attorney General Ken Paxton and three of his predecessors and block Hall from reading the Kroll papers, despite a prior board vote permitting it and Hall’s “inherent right of access” as a regent under state law, which Paxton cited. The disgrace for the entire UT community will only be compounded once a court issues a writ of mandamus compelling McRaven to turn over the documents.
There’s no defense for lawlessness, and there’s no defense for a cover-up, which is why nobody is defending McRaven and the UT board majority, which gave him tacit approval.
The board hasn’t spoken in its own defense. It could start by explaining why people who took part in the corruption of UT’s admissions program have any say in what the rest of us learn about it.
McRaven has offered just two explanations: 1) the circular reason that reopening the matter would reopen the matter, and 2) it would be working “at cross-purposes with our own litigation team” in an affirmative action case before the Supreme Court; that is, the facts contained in the Kroll papers would undermine the lies UT has already told the court.
UT’s actions are so utterly indefensible that all its attorneys can offer is procedural gibberish in defense: please, Mr. Paxton, ignore Hall, because his attorney can’t write a letter on his behalf for some reason we’re just now inventing.
Most telling, the institutional voices that have defended the disgraced president Bill Powers these past three years have been silent. None of the pro-Powers alumni are writing op-eds defending this obstructionism.
There’s nothing for them to say. That talking point about Hall being some agent of Rick Perry on a mission to destroy Powers? Perry and Powers are gone now.
Hall’s inquiries create a huge, impeachment-worthy, practical burden for the administration? Not this one – this info has already been compiled. Just hand him a flash drive.
Hall’s interest in online learning is a threat to the institution? Well, McRaven just said that online courses have brought UT to the “cusp of a tectonic shift in how we do learning,” and nobody’s complaining about barbarians at the gate.
More telling than the silence of the Powers loyalists, none of the pro-Powers editorial boards have defended this outrage. I dare them to try.
The Houston Chronicle’s editorial board beclowned itself with a few soggy attacks on Hall in 2014, but its attention has wandered since.
It’s the editorial board of the Austin American-Statesman that I’d really like to call out. If anybody ought to be able to invent a defense here, it’s the Statesman.
In January 2014, the Statesman’s editor put a spokeswoman for Powers in charge of its editorial pages. That’s not hyperbole. She actually hired Tara Trower Doolittle away from her $89,000-a-year job as a communications director for UT, gave her control of the editorial pages, and then forgot to monitor the pages for groundless pro-Powers propaganda.
Doolittle is clearly biased, but that’s not my complaint. She still could have argued honestly. Instead, she has resorted to gross misrepresentation.
The Statesman wrote this in an editorial after the Kroll report was published: an “earlier inquiry found no ‘overt pressure on admissions officials’ by Powers or his staff. The Kroll report came to the same conclusion.”
Really? Here’s the Kroll report:
“For the past several years, the Directors of Admission have provided some push back to the President’s Office on the desired admissions of certain applicants. The Directors of Admission saw it as their job to defend the Admissions Office evaluations and to ensure consistency in and integrity of the admissions process. In some instances, when the Admissions Directors stood their ground, (Powers assistant) Nancy Brazzil would ask, ‘Do we need to talk to Bill (Powers)?’ In a few cases, a Director said yes. Then, sometime after the meeting, the President’s Office called the Admissions Office and said, ‘Nancy talked to Bill and we have to do this.’”
Or how about this assertion, from the same editorial?
“Some 200 to 300 applicants of interest receive holds each year, the Kroll report found. The majority of these applicants would have been admitted on merit alone.”
There is nothing in the report estimating what proportion of the special applicants would have gotten in on their own merits. The report does include data showing that only 6 percent of them had above-average grades and test scores, which would suggest few, if any, of the applicants deserved their places.
Then there’s the longstanding gripe against Hall, that — as Tony Soprano could tell him — he should quit asking so many questions. Doolittle tried that line again in a bizarre editorial last month calling for Hall’s resignation after a Travis County grand jury decided there was no reason to indict him.
“The House Transparency Committee report on Hall concluded he made 1,200 requests that resulted in 800,000 pages of documents and cost the university $1 million,” Doolittle wrote.
The report, as biased against Hall as it was, concluded no such thing. I pointed out her mistake in an email discussion after she included the claim in a blog post a day before the editorial ran.
“The 1,200 figure was simply incorrect,” I told her. “The Hardin report recorded that Hall had looked at 1,200 already existing files comprising ‘94 percent of the 1,278 open record files created at UT Austin between January 2011 and June 2013.’
“Those were the famous 40 boxes, and they don’t come out to anything like 800,000 pages, per Hall and (former Chancellor Francisco) Cigarroa. (You can do the math — the avg TPIA request doesn’t return 700-page docs.)
“(Powers’ underling Kevin) Hegarty refused to substantiate his figure when pressed on his 800k guess, as did Powers for his million.
“So your argument came down to a factual mistake and two ill-motivated WAGs from self-interested partisans.”
But that was good enough for her. Yet even Doolittle professes to believe that a “system that allows political favoritism is an unfair system. Texans deserve to know the intricacies of such a system…. The practice should cease, but if state leaders insist on continuing such an unfair admissions practice, they should be identified. Texans should know who asks for such favors.”
If the Statesman really believes in the mission of journalism, in open government, in its own words, then it ought to take a stand against this cover-up.
Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.
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