Regent Wallace Hall to be investigated by grand jury

Alex Wilts

In a public interview with The Texas Tribune on Thursday, UT System Regent Wallace Hall said the Travis County district attorney will take his case to a grand jury to investigate him for his alleged release of confidential student information.

In a room filled with both supporters and critics, Hall said he takes student privacy seriously and denied committing any acts of wrongdoing.

“It would be nicer if they closed the file and moved on, but I’ll go through the process,” Hall said. “I am very comfortable with all the actions that I took with those documents.”

In April, the district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit opened a criminal investigation. Thursday, after the event, a district attorney spokesman confirmed the case against Hall will be brought before a grand jury in the coming weeks. 

The allegations stem from Hall’s personal investigations into the University, from which he brought up issues with the University’s admissions process. In July 2013, after going through thousands of University documents, Hall found two emails that led to a System inquiry into legislative influence in the University’s admissions. While the inquiry found no systematic wrongdoing, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa commissioned an external investigation into admissions in July.

Hall said the primary reason he conducted his investigation and announced his findings to the Board of Regents was because of his desire for transparency in the admissions process.

“If we want the senators and House representatives to be able to get people into universities, let’s just be up front about it,” Hall said. “That’s what I’m pushing for.”

After state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority, Hall became the subject of a House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations investigation in June 2013. A year and two months later, the committee censured Hall, citing, among other actions, his alleged disclosure of personal student information to his lawyers. 

“The committee today — at length — sets out its understanding that Mr. Hall’s actions have crossed the line from remaining informed and engaged to violating his regental and fiduciary duties,” the document states. “Not only did Mr. Hall’s demands and conduct create a toxic environment on the University of Texas at Austin campus and within the System, but the manner in which that conduct was undertaken was simply not constructive taken as a whole.”

Paul Hastings, one of the event attendees and a senior at Thomas Edison State College, believes Hall is innocent and started making and selling pro-Wallace Hall T-shirts with slogans like “Hook ’em Wallace” and “Keep Calm and Wallace On.”

Hastings said his family is from Thailand, where people need political connections to receive basic needs, such as health care, instead of just for getting into college. Hastings said in a country like the U.S., which is supposed to stand for truth and justice, Hall should be regarded as a hero.

“Wallace Hall is being reprimanded for doing the right thing,” Hastings said.

Hall also believes in his own innocence. During their discussion Thursday, he told Evan Smith, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, that since the committee’s decision in August, he has continued to be “unabated” in conducting his System governing duties.

“I certainly don’t feel in any way diminished,” Hall said. “If the transparency committee truly thought that I had violated the law, shouldn’t they have brought articles of impeachment against me?”