By Nolan Hicks
San Antonio Express-News
Originally published April 7, 2014
SAN ANTONIO — University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall likely committed impeachable offenses — including abusing his office and possibly breaking state and federal law — in his campaign to oust University of Texas at Austin president Bill Powers, according to a draft report prepared for the Texas House committee investigating Hall.
The 176-page draft, made available to committee members Friday and obtained by the San Antonio Express-News, alleges Hall leaked confidential student information in apparent violation of state and federal law in an attempt to silence critics in the Legislature. The report also accuses him of manipulating the House investigation and coercing witnesses.
It describes both activities as “particularly troubling and potentially criminal in nature,” and states that the leaks likely violated both the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and the Texas Public Information Act.
The allegations of coercion focus on Hall’s efforts to get UT administrators, including Powers, to alter their testimony to the committee. Hall “pressured UT System witnesses to alter testimony provided to the Committee; and he sought retaliatory employment action despite the Committee’s express request that no such action be taken during the course of the investigation,” the report states.
The report was prepared by the committee’s special counsel, Houston attorney Rustin Hardin’s law firm.
A lawyer for Hall said the regent would not comment on the report until he reads it.
The report alleges Hall abused his position by demanding overly burdensome records requests, which cost UT-Austin more than $1 million to comply with, bullying university administration staffers whom he opposed, undermining the University’s public image and continuing to seek Powers’ termination even though the House panel had asked him and other regents to refrain from such activity.
The report includes emails sent by Hall in which he did little to hide his disapproval of Powers. It describes one in which Hall told the Board of Regents that “they were being ‘held hostage by terrorists’ and that firing Powers would only result in a ‘two week’ reaction that could easily be overcome.”
The committee and its special counsel reviewed more than 150,000 pages of documents regarding Hall, the report states.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hall, a Dallas businessman, to the UT System’s board of regents in Feb. 2011.
Controversy over the actions of some UT regents kicked up during the 2013 legislative session, with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst leading an emotional outpouring of support for Powers in a February speech in which he cited anonymous letters attacking the university president and saying he was troubled to see regents “trying to micromanage the system.”
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in June ordered the Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to investigate Hall’s conduct. The panel heard testimony from UT System and UT Austin officials, fellow lawmakers and others.
Hall declined an invitation from the committee to testify. His attorney stated at the time that the panel did not subpoena him, which would have allowed him to discuss confidential information.
However, during a public discussion last fall, Hall said he made open records requests of UT institutions as a private citizen because they did not respond to his requests as a regent.
“I feel very comfortable with everything that I’ve done,” Hall said then.
Jenifer Sarver, spokeswoman for the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group aiming to guard against perceived political interference in state universities, said she was unable to comment on the specifics of the committee’s draft but added, “I’m hopeful that the final product is something that provides the committee and the Legislature something to work with in regard to taking some necessary steps to stop the kind of behavior we’ve been seeing from Regent Hall.”
Houston Chronicle Reporter Benjamin Wermund and Express-News Staff Writer Jennifer R. Lloyd contributed to this report.