UT-Austin students take McRaven’s side in records fight with regent Hall

By Benjamin Wermund
Houston Chronicle
Originally published July 16, 2015

In the ongoing fight over records between University of Texas System leaders, the students of the system’s flagship UT Austin have sided with Chancellor Bill McRaven.

UT Regent Wallace Hall, Jr. sued McRaven last month, saying he should be allowed to see federally protected student information that the University of Texas turned over to a private investigator.

In a letter sent to the chancellor and regents this week, the presidents of the student government, Senate of College Councils and the president of the Graduate Student Assembly – three groups representing 50,000 students, the letter says – thanked McRaven for standing up for and listening to students.

“We laud your actions to defend our confidential information despite Regent Hall’s efforts to access it,” the letter says.

Hall, whose voluminous information requests have prompted a state House committee investigation and a grand jury inquiry, says his job as a regent is to stay fully informed – especially on admissions practices, the subject of a lawsuit being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hall wants to get information behind a report on admissions at the UT Austin. The report by Kroll, the company that conducted the audit, found that then-President Bill Powers overruled admissions officers on behalf of lawmakers, alumni and regents.

But McRaven, who has the support of the chairman and most regents, argues that his duty is to ensure that the system, which includes nine universities and six health institutions, strictly complies with student and patient privacy laws. The chancellor has agreed to turn over all records to Hall, except those which are protected by federal student and patient privacy laws.

“In the face of this current situation, we are moved by your commitment to protect UT System students,” the letter says. “In your 2014 commencement speech, you emphasized the importance of perseverance and individual integrity. You tasked us with being our best in the darkest moments and called on us not to back down when faced with sharks. This speech was inspiring, and we are glad to see the principles of this rhetoric in action. We are thankful you are a man of your word.”