Political Cronyism Threatens Reputation of UT: More Revelations and Political Posturing

May 22, 2014 by AFP

Gov. Rick Perry this week publicly expressed his support for embattled University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall.  Hall has been subject of much media attention in the state.  He should be known for his willingness to tackle his job on the Board of Regents having governance over the University.  In his statement, Gov. Perry said: “Wallace Hall should be commended for his persistence — in the face of overwhelming opposition from bureaucrats — in trying to ensure the institutions of higher education under his purview are operating effectively, efficiently and within the law. Hall is doing exactly what every regent and every appointee in the State of Texas should be doing: asking tough questions, gathering facts and searching for the truth…”  http://governor.state.tx.us/news/press-release/19698/

An article on FoxNews.com this week questions whether corruption and cronyism is rampant at the University of Texas.  The article by Erik Telford states “Many Texas politicians appear to be abusing the public university’s admissions process, calling in favors to get unqualified applicants admitted.”   http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/05/20/corruption-rampant-cronyism-at-university-texas-school-law/

And a follow-up story in Watchdog.org from the Texas bureau chief Jon Cassidy provided specific instances of House leadership using their influence to request admissions for friends and family – http://watchdog.org/146009/ut-admissions-branch/.   The article cited letters written by House Speaker Joe Straus and his deputies Higher Ed Chairman Dan Branch (Attorney General candidate) and House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts (who is not running for re-election.)

The controversy began when Regent Hall began asking for public documents from UT.  His critics claim he was asking for “too much” information.  But in his role on the governance board, should he be limited in the amount of data he believes he needs?  We think not.

One issue that begs addressing is this: legislators appear eager to go so far as taking the unprecedented step of impeaching Regent Hall for his quest for information; however, legislators unanimously passed legislation which placed no limit on the information locally elected school boards could request of their ISD’s.

Is it the amount of paperwork that Regent Hall is requesting that is problematic, or could the real problem be what the paperwork would reveal?   His quest has documented that legislators have asked for special  admissions consideration for their family, friends and donors’ kids.  Most Texans would agree that practice is problematic.  Even the most cynical might try to rationalize it as having been done that way for years.

But the issues of fairness and transparency need to be addressed.

Is it fair for kids with political connections to gain admissions, bumping students who worked hard and earned that slot?  Academic excellence and political cronyism are not likely partners.

Transparency is necessary to build public trust and confidence in government.  The University of Texas is not only a public university but the flagship university in the state.  Texans have a right to know what goes on in government entities — and in regard to admissions, how the process is working (or not working)?  Why all the uproar over Regent Hall’s request for documents?  Is there something legislators don’t want the public to see?  We do not know because legislators and UT leadership appear eager for Regent Hall to step down and hope this controversy will go away.  After all, what is a controversy today could grow into a full-blown scandal tomorrow.

It is apparent that legislators were influencing the UT admissions process.  Should we simply set up the University of Texas Law School admissions office at the State Capitol?  If the rigor is absent the admissions process, will UT lose its status as a first-rate university?  Or is the problem even larger than the admissions process?

A revealing look at UT Law School admissions and bar exam performance is provided in an article by investigative reporter Jon Cassidy which appeared last week in Watchdog Wire Texas: http://watchdog.org/144169/ut-law-school-hookups/#comment-1399455713

This controversy feeds public cynicism about government and politicians, but also smacks of possible scandal.  Why else would legislators be so eager to stop UT Regent Wallace Hall?