By Madlin Mekelburg, Jacob Kerr and Jordan Rudner
The Daily Texan
Originally published May 12, 2014
Updated (2:56 p.m.): In a statement distributed by attorney Allan Van Fleet, Regent Wallace Hall said his impeachment would not solve the problems he has identified at UT System institutions.
“When a Board encounters problems, coverups, and intransigence at a taxpayer-funded institution, is the proper response to hold those who are responsible accountable, or to impeach the board member?” Hall said in his statement. “If the Transparency Committee desires transparency, it should not seek ways to interfere with investigations that would expose improper conduct at the University of Texas.”
Hall said his role as a regent is to protect the individuals at the various UT institutions.
“My efforts as a regent are to serve the interests of our great educational institutions, the students, faculty, and staff who make them great, and the taxpayers who fund them, not to appease a privileged class who abuse them,” Hall said.
Original story: In a 7-1 vote Monday, the House transparency committee voted there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall’s impeachment. The committee will meet on May 21 and 22 to try and determine the nature of specific articles of impeachment.
If the committee votes on specific articles, Hall’s case will go to the full Texas House of Representatives. If a majority of the members of the House approve of the case’s merits, it will go to the Senate, where members will convene as a court to make a final decision. If the Senate concurs with the committee’s recommendation, Hall will be the first non-elected official to be impeached in Texas history.
Rep. Carol Alvarado, committee co-chair and D-Houston, said Hall’s actions warrant extreme actions.
“Impeachment is an extraordinary tool to use in extraordinary circumstances,” Alvarado said. “I view Regent Hall’s conduct as extraordinary for an appointee.”
Rep. Dan Flynn committee co-chair and R-Canton, said he encouraged Hall to resign, and noted that if Hall were to resign before May 21, the committee would not have to convene.
The only committee member to vote against grounds of impeachment, Rep. Charles Perry R-San Antonio, said he did not feel all sides had been provided adequate chance to explain themselves.
“I think UT has lost some of its swagger,” Perry said. “I believe my opinion may have been different if I had heard testimony from all sides.”
After the committee voted, Rep. Lyle Larson R-San Antonio issued a request for Governor Rick Perry to ask for Hall’s resignation. Larson said he has asked Perry three times previously, with no response.
“I’ve been contacted by just about every chairman of the UT system for the last four decades, all indicating that something needs to be done,” Larson said. “What this has cost us in recruiting deans, in recruiting a new chancellor, and the monetary impact…like [Martinez Fischer] said, there have been opportunities for the UT system to intervene.”
Senate of College Councils president Geetika Jerath said she felt the decision reflects the best interests of the University.
The House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has investigated Hall since July 2013 for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent. He has been accused by some members of the state legislature, including state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, as conducting a “witch-hunt” against Powers.
Hall was appointed to a six-year term on the Board of Regents by Gov. Rick Perry in February 2011. Before his appointment, Hall served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which works with legislators and education officials to enforce various education initiatives.
Tensions between Powers and Hall have been ongoing since 2011, when Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign after concerns arose regarding the foundation’s forgivable loan program. Sager awarded himself a $500,000 loan through the program.
Though Powers said he was not aware of the forgivable loan Sager awarded himself, Hall filed open records requests which yielded roughly 40 boxes of materials and claimed he had evidence Powers was aware of the forgivable loan but chose not to take action. Powers has repeatedly denied these claims.
After state legislators accused Hall of micromanaging the University and working with other regents to remove Powers from his position, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus asked the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations in June 2013 to investigate the actions of executive appointees and recommend articles of impeachment if necessary. The committee subsequently began investigating Hall.
In August 2013, the committee hired Houston attorney Rusty Hardin as its special counsel. Based on recommendations from Hardin, the transparency committee decided in September to not allow cross-examination of witnesses by Hall’s attorneys during the upcoming hearings in the investigation.
According to testimony from Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer at UT, Hall filed open records requests for over 800,000 pages of information from UT. System officials, including outgoing UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, have said the actual number of pages is closer to 100,000.
Last November, the transparency committee heard testimony from Francie Frederick, general counsel for the Board of Regents. Frederick said Hall was mistakenly given access to private student information through his wide ranging open records requests.
In her testimony, Frederick said regents can have access to information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act if they have a valid, job-related reason to see it.
In December, Powers and Cigarroa testified on subpoena in front of the committee. Powers said Hall’s open records requests cost the University well over $1 million, but insisted he could not provide an exact number at the time. Both Cigarroa and Powers testified Hall’s actions were a distraction to UT and the System.
At the request of the committee, Philip Hilder, outside counsel to the System, submitted a report to the transparency committee in January, stating there was “no credible evidence” Hall violated any state laws regarding the release of data. In his report, Hilder said Hall requested all information protected by FERPA be redacted from the documents, but UT failed to completely remove all potentially problematic information when providing Hall with the requested documents.
Hardin prepared a report on the committee’s investigation which concluded Hall likely committed impeachable offenses. The report lists a variety of basis for Hall’s impeachment, including his handling of confidential student information, his treatment of UT-Austin and UT System officials and his large number of open records requests. The report also suggests Hall attempted to interfere with testimony.
Following the release of Hardin’s report, the Travis County district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit opened an investigation into allegations that Hall violated privacy laws in distributing private student information obtained in one of his open records requests.