By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org
An investigation into the corruption of admissions standards at the University of Texas School of Law confirmed Watchdog’s reports that dozens of applicants had been admitted to UT Law despite atrocious test scores.
Nonetheless, Kroll Associates made no mention in its final report of the dozens of inadequate Law School Admission Test scores it found in researching applicant data from 2004 to 2014.
Most of those underwhelming students were admitted when Bill Powers was still dean of the law school. Instead, Kroll simply ignored the most damning findings from Power’s tenure at UT Law, and gave detailed figures just for 2010 to 2014.
“Of 6,155 admitted applicants from 2010 to 2014, only four were admitted with an LSAT score below 150,” Kroll reported. Also, “During the time period reviewed, we found only two applicants who were admitted with both an undergraduate GPA below 3.0 and LSAT score below 155; however, both applicants belonged to an under-represented minority group and had valuable public sector experience before applying to law school.”
Actually, Kroll found dozens of students with LSAT scores below 150, and even found three students admitted during the Powers years with scores in the 130s.
As one of our critics put it when these abuses were first coming to light, “A 148 LSAT score getting into UT Law would be beyond extreme. Shocking, even.”
The 150 cutoff is significant, as even the worst accredited law schools in the country rarely accept scores any lower. UT usually aims much higher. In 2014, 800 of the 1,080 admitted applicants had LSAT scores of 165 and above on the test, which is scored on a 120-180 scale. Another 196 had scores from 160-164. Of the remaining 84, just 13 were below 155, and none below 150.
In the years 2007 to 2009, UT Law admitted at least six students with LSAT scores lower than 150. But the Powers years were much worse. In the Powers years, the low grade point average for admitted applicants was usually around 2.3, although one was so low it fell off Kroll’s chart, and was recorded as simply “<1.9.”
Powers left the deanship of the law school for the presidency of the university on Feb. 1, 2006, at which point most of the admissions decisions for that year had been made. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the law school admitted at least 22 students with LSAT scores below 150, according to the Kroll records.
In each of those years, UT Law admitted somebody with an LSAT score of 137, which is down in the bottom 8 percent of test takers nationwide.
It’s impossible to say now exactly how many underqualified students were admitted, as UT redacted the tallies. We can say that in 2004, UT Law admitted at least one person with each of the following scores: 137, 140, 141, 144, 147, 148 and 149.
In 2005, UT Law admitted at least one person with each of the following scores: 137, 140, 141, 143, 144, 147, 148 and 149.
In 2006, the low scores recorded were 137, 141, 143, 146, 147, 148 and 149.
Powers was paid $635,918.87 by the UT Law School Foundation, whose members were often interested in having their own children attend the school. That entire compensation program was later canceled, as it runs afoul of state law prohibiting the payment of honoraria to public officials for the performance of their official duties.
Kroll asked for admissions files on 169 applicants admitted between 2010 and 2014 with GPAs lower than 3.0 or LSAT scores below 155, but was only provided with 70 files, and told the rest had been destroyed when the person chose to go elsewhere.
The findings are quite similar to a Watchdog report from May 2014 that went back a little further than Kroll’s timespan:
“In recent years, UT Law has admitted students not just with LSATs in the 140s, but with scores as low as 138, 137, 136, even 128. Several of them were rejected by other Texas law schools of lesser reputation.
“A 128 is down at the very bottom 1 percent of test-takers nationwide. It means the person got less than a quarter of the answers correct.”
A Kroll investigator underlined those sentences in blue ink on a printout of three Watchdog.org articles included in the Kroll investigatory file. So Kroll knew what it was supposed to find. The question is who made the decision to keep those findings out of the final report.
Vice Chancellor Dan Sharphorn oversaw the report. He reports directly to Chancellor Bill McRaven.
At the time, state newspapers barely noticed.
It took the Houston Chronicle 24 days to report on Cigarroa’s preliminary inquiry into admissions favoritism, which was published May 15. The Austin American-Statesman finally noted the report’s existence June 24, after Cigarroa announced the Kroll investigation. The Dallas Morning News reported nothing (although its opinion page took notice).
UT Regent Wallace Hall had been raising questions about admissions integrity for more than a year, but none of the newspapers took his claims seriously enough to investigate (or even to report on the investigations of others). Instead, they typically presented Hall’s efforts as some sort of “witch hunt” against Powers.
The bigger the scandal gets, the worse it reflects on those beat reporters, which is why the newest protagonist in the story comes not from the newsrooms, but from the editorial page of the Morning News. The opinion columnist Rudolph Bush, like Watchdog.org, has requested access to all of the records assembled during the Kroll investigation.
Last week, Bush got his paper to file for a court order telling UT to stop dragging its feet and produce the records.
Just like it took a judge to break Watergate wide open, UT’s malfeasance may not be thoroughly exposed without a judge taking an active interest in the case. In response to a public records request, UT last week produced a key 24,536-page document from the Kroll files, with every last page redacted.
Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which is in charge of open records rulings, has been hit or miss so far, ruling for transparency in some cases, but also endorsing some of UT’s excuses for secrecy. For example, last week his office ruled that some evidence of regents getting Powers’ office to admit their favored candidates was covered by attorney-client privilege, because the Kroll investigation was overseen by an attorney.
Paxton’s office has not yet ruled on global requests — filed independently by Bush and Watchdog.org — for all of the Kroll papers, which may well lead to litigation.
Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.
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