By Chuck Lindell
Austin American Statesman
Originally published Jan. 27, 2017
University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall Jr. is not entitled to confidential records of an investigation into UT admissions, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The unanimous court ruled that Chancellor Bill McRaven did not exceed his authority in denying the records to Hall over concerns that access to private student information would violate the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Because McRaven did not act improperly, Hall could not overcome sovereign immunity, a legal principle that protects government actors from lawsuits and other legal action, the court ruled.
The court also expressed some misgivings in the opinion written by Justice John Devine.
“We are not unsympathetic to Hall’s plight, however. He seeks information to educate himself and his fellow regents about issues of undeniable importance to the institution,” Devine wrote.
The way the Board of Regents was formed, however, and the authority given to the chancellor, deprived Hall of a legal course of action, the court said.
“Perhaps that scheme is unwise. Perhaps it elevates the status quo above transparency. Perhaps it increases the likelihood that voices in the minority will be stifled. And perhaps it presents none of those dangers. But those questions are beyond our reach,” Devine wrote.
The court’s decision had been placed on a fast track because Hall’s term on the board was scheduled to end Feb. 1. Gov. Greg Abbott has named a replacement, and the Senate Nominations Committee has held a hearing on the new appointment, though no vote was taken on sending the nomination to the full Senate.
McRaven praised the ruling.
“I am pleased that the courts confirmed that my actions complied with the authority granted to me by the Board of Regents,” McRaven said in a statement. “I understand that it is important for a governing board to have access to certain information to perform its duties, but I must also ensure that the University of Texas System strictly complies with privacy requirements created by state and federal law.”