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McRaven’s rationale for UT cover-up denounced by regents, AG

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Part 65 of 72 in the series Trouble in Texas
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PUBLIC PRIVACY: Chancellor Bill McRaven has gotten UT mixed up in four lawsuits over his attempts to sweep admissions corruption under the rug.

There are more than 11,000 board members of accredited universities in the United States, plus another 6,500 trustees of community, technical, and junior colleges. You could multiply the sum of the two by some factor of the number of terms they’ve served in the 42 years since enactment of Sen. James Buckley’s amendment that he believed would take the “lid off secrecy in our schools.”

In the decades since, that amendment has become the lid of secrecy itself, an invisibility cloak called FERPA — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — that school officials throw over anything that threatens to become a humiliation. This veil divides the public on one side from the university and all its “school officials, including teachers” on the other.

Yet in the constant stream of embarrassment that our 4,000-plus colleges have produced over those decades, out of all the hard questions asked by tens of thousands of board members, never before has any of those institutions attempted to draw the veil of secrecy between the school’s overseers and its hirelings. That is to say, if briefing papers in the case of Wallace Hall v. William McRaven are correct, nobody has had McRaven’s audacity in pretending that federal law requires employees to hide information from board members.

Hall is seeking access to the unredacted records of an investigation into political and donor favoritism in university admissions that was conducted by Kroll Associates. Watchdog.org has already proven that Kroll’s official report, released a month after McRaven took office, understated the scale of the corruption by a factor of 10, and that Kroll also whitewashed abuses at UT Law out of its findings.

McRaven has insisted that he is protecting “personally identifiable information” from disclosure. But in practice, that means he gave Hall a 24,536-page record with every last page redacted.

A friend-of-the-court brief filed by an attorney for four current and former regents of the University of Texas System last week says that they “are unaware of another instance in which a university has invoked FERPA against one of its own regents.”

The brief from regents Brenda Pejovich and Alex Cranberg and former regents Eugene Powell and Charles Miller points out that it has become commonplace for schools to invoke FERPA whenever they need to cover something up, just as Watchdog has reported.

“While universities’ misapplications of FERPA to avoid disclosing negative or embarrassing information to the press have become increasingly common over the past several decades, this is the first time an educational institution has invoked FERPA against its very own regent,” the brief states.

In order to deny Hall the full Kroll papers, McRaven had to take the position that Hall held no “legitimate educational interest” in them, despite the fact that the UT System had already determined just the opposite, that Hall “would have an educational purpose since oversight of campus admissions standards (is) consistent with the role and mission of U.T. System institutions.”

In other words, McRaven’s position is that there is a strict federal prohibition on record-sharing that comes in and out of existence depending on how he feels about it.

The four regents are challenging the notion that McRaven has any such discretion to deny information requests, pointing out that “it is the regents who have been statutorily ‘authorized and directed to govern, operate, support, and maintain’ the UT System,” not the people they employ.

They also argue that even if McRaven did have the authority to determine that Hall’s “legitimate educational interest” had suddenly vanished, that determination couldn’t have been made on any factual basis, as neither McRaven nor his delegate has ever read the Kroll papers.

“The UT System’s general counsel did not ‘personally’ review any of the Kroll documents before invoking FERPA,” the brief states, adding that “Chancellor McRaven has never reviewed the Kroll records.”

Hall needs access to student names for the same reason that investigators were given that access, the regents argue: It’s impossible to determine whether favors were traded without knowing which politicians and which of their children, friends, and associates were involved.

“It is an individual Regent’s job to call for further investigation if there is the appearance of such management impropriety and to call for appropriate disciplinary action,” the regents write.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has also filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Third District Court of Appeals in Austin to find for Hall.

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.