After closed-door session, UT regents urge Hall to drop lawsuit

By Matthew Watkins
The Texas Tribune
Originally published July 8, 2015

University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall on Wednesday was asked to leave the closed-door portion of a regents meeting in which his lawsuit against UT System Chancellor William McRaven was being discussed.

Not long after that executive session, regents reconvened and voted to urge Hall to drop his lawsuit, saying it “carries the potential to be costly and an unnecessary distraction.”

Hall left the meeting without responding, saying to reporters that he was frustrated to be left out of the closed-door session.

“I don’t think it is appropriate,” he said as he left the building.

The special meeting of the regents only seemed to heighten tensions between Hall and his fellow board members, and there was no sign of a resolution. System officials said they have until July 20 to submit a response to Hall’s lawsuit – and they expect to file something.

Hall is suing for access to unredacted records used to compile an outside investigator’s report into admissions practices at UT-Austin. The report found that a few dozen students were admitted into the school over the admissions office’s objections over several years. Those students might have gotten in because they had powerful connections, the report said. The report doesn’t, however, say who those students are or who helped them get in.

Hall asked for the documents, but has been repeatedly denied by McRaven and other UT System leaders. He filed suit last month, saying he has a right to the information as a member of the system’s governing board. UT System officials have argued that giving out the information would violate student privacy laws because Hall has no educational purpose in obtaining them.

Near the end of Wednesday’s meeting, board Vice Chairman Steve Hicks read from a two-page motion stating the board’s position. It endorsed McRaven’s May 20 offer to let Hall view redacted records from the report.

“I further move that the board direct the chancellor, the vice chancellor and general counsel, and outside counsel, to vigorously defend the position of the board, as articulated in this motion,” Hicks said.

After some debate, the motion was approved by a 5-1 vote. Hall and Regent Brenda Pejovich abstained. Regent Alex Cranberg was the lone dissenting vote.

System officials declined to discuss why Hall was asked to leave the meeting, only saying that he is the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Allowing him to stay would have presumably set up an awkward situation in which the legal strategy against Hall’s suit would have been discussed in his presence.