UT System board rebukes regent Wallace Hall over recent public comments

By Matthew Watkins
The Texas Tribune
Originally published Oct. 30, 2015

Frustrated with his recent public comments, the University of Texas System Board of Regents has again rebuked outspoken member Wallace Hall.

In a special meeting Friday, the board voted to “express disagreement and disapproval” of recent statements by Hall, saying Hall doesn’t speak for the board and that the continued public fighting needs to stop.

“I cannot remain silent when Mr. Hall engages in constant criticisms and accusations,” said board Chairman Paul Foster.

Hall has clashed with leadership at the UT System and UT-Austin for years. Critics accused him of engaging in a witch hunt against former UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Hall submitted copious requests for information and has raised public questions about admissions and spending at the school. That prompted impeachment hearings in the Texas Legislature and a criminal review by a Travis County grand jury. The grand jury chose not to indict and the impeachment effort fell short.

Foster has previously called on Hall to resign.

Hall has defended his actions and has mostly appeared unswayed by the criticism, saying he is performing his state-mandated oversight role. Lately, his focus has shifted to Chancellor Bill McRaven. Hall sued the chancellor earlier this year seeking access to admissions records that McRaven has denied him. Hall said he wants to know more about a report that found students who may not have been qualified were admitted to the school because they have powerful connections. McRaven has said that the student records Hall seeks are private.

Lately, the tussle has heated up. The two shared strongly worded e-mails in recent weeks about access to reports on professor productivity. Hall told The Texas Tribune last week that system officials were being “disingenuous” in denying him the information he seeks. In a previous article about the legal fight over student records, he said the chancellor was engaging in a “cover-up.”

On Friday, Hall said he was “surprised” by the board’s motion but noted that things had gotten frosty with McRaven. He said McRaven has “refused to speak with me except through public counsel.”

“I, too, would welcome some more decorum for our processes,” he said.

The motion approved by the board Friday expressed disapproval of “certain public statements” made by Hall. But board members never said what those statements were. Asked after the meeting, Foster declined to identify them.

Only one person voted against the rebuke of Hall: Regent Brenda Pejovich. She said she hoped to see more civility among board members but that “individuals do have a right to express themselves in a way that they deem appropriate, and I am not going to police that.”

Hall abstained from the vote.

Neither Hall nor McRaven were in the meeting room when the vote was taken. Most of the board members participated over the phone. McRaven was out of town after filming an interview for The Charlie Rose Show in New York on Thursday.

After the meeting, McRaven released a short statement: “I am most appreciative to the Board of Regents for conveying its strong support of me and by extension, all of my colleagues at the University of Texas System. I look forward to working with the entire board, including Regent Hall, as we remain laser-focused on what matters most to the people of Texas and the nation.”