Open Letter to the Texas Legislature

May 12, 2014

Open Letter to the Texas Legislature:

The Action taken today by the House Transparency in State Agencies Operations Select Committee is both disappointing and problematic.

Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial titled, “Political Revenge in Texas,” outlines a troubling scenario in which the University of Texas has pressured lawmakers to impeach one of its own Regents, Wallace Hall. The offense? Regent Hall took his job description and oversight responsibility at face value.

The Committee’s vote today sets a dangerous precedent that threatens both the credibility and authority of the Legislature as well as the public reputation of our state universities for fairness and equal opportunity.

First, the Committee risks the Legislature’s credibility by sending a message that our state’s University Systems do not deserve the same level of respect and oversight that the Legislature unanimously declared were due to Texas K-12 independent school district trustees in 2013, (HB 628). This law stipulates that a member of a school district board of trustees, acting in the member’s official capacity, has the right to access information, documents, and records maintained by the school district without having to submit a public information request. In contrast, Regent Hall is facing impeachment on the grounds of submitting too many public information requests while acting in his official capacity. We believe that an appointed member of a university board of regents should have the same ability to do their job as does a school board member; Texas taxpayers deserve no less.

Second, the Committee vote risks the Legislature’s authority by appearing to allow an institution that it oversees to dictate the terms of that oversight.

The University of Texas’s website identifies the UT Board of Regents as “the governing body for The University of Texas System.” The Board draws its oversight responsibilities from the Texas Legislature. Further, the Rules and Regulations of the Board of Regents state that it is the “responsibility of each Regent to be knowledgeable in some detail regarding the operations, management, finances, and effectiveness of the academic, research, and public service programs of the U.T. System,” (Rule 10101; Paragraph 2; Section 3.1).

It has generally been acknowledged that Regent Hall’s inquires revealed some activities, which, at minimum, deserve public scrutiny and may well reveal evidence of wrongdoing. In such a case, it would seem prudent for the Legislature to give the benefit of the doubt to the Regent who is requesting information to perform his or her duties rather than giving the benefit of the doubt to the institution being overseen. To do otherwise looks more like the tail wagging the dog…and covering up a mess.

Finally, the Committee vote risks harming the reputation for fairness and equal opportunity in our state’s public higher education system. That reputation hinges on public trust – trust that when a student achieves a certain level of academic excellence, he or she will be given a fair shot at acceptance, regardless of his or her political connections. In light of Regent Hall’s discoveries, that some UT applicants may have received preferential admissions treatment inconsistent with their academic merit, the Committee chose a path that will challenge the public trust placed both in the legislature and in the university.

A vote to impeach the whistleblower sends a disheartening message to students across our state that their excellent academic performance may not be enough for them to be granted admission to UT; and a vote to impeach the whistleblower betrays the trust of the broader public who depend on university regents to protect the integrity of their tax dollars.

In light of what we have learned over the past months and detailed again in today’s Wall Street Journal, Americans for Prosperity-Texas is proud to stand with Regent Wallace Hall in his efforts to promote transparency and fairness in our state university system and to faithfully fulfill his responsibility as a public servant governing the UT System.

We are disappointed in the Committee action and  implore the Legislature  to take no action that would impede Regent Hall or future regents from doing their job, because to do so impedes the Legislature from doing its own.

Sincerely,

Texas State Director Mike Hasson &  Texas Policy Director Peggy Venable

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