Board of Regents deny state legislators’ request to monitor UT admissions investigation

Alex Wilts

The UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted Monday to deny requests from two state legislators to monitor interviews relating to the external investigation of UT’s admissions process.

At a special meeting over telephone conference call, the board discussed a Sept. 8 letter from state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, announcing their intention to attend or monitor all interviews conducted by Kroll Associates, Inc., the risk mitigation response firm leading the investigation. In August, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations announced Martinez Fischer and Larson would be tasked with monitoring the System. 

At the board meeting Monday, Regent Gene Powell read a motion rejecting Martinez Fischer and Larson’s request to be involved in the interviews conducted by the firm.

“The Chancellor expressly charged that the investigation be independent, and to include one or more members of the Legislature in these interviews would compromise the independence and integrity of the interviews and of the investigation,” the motion said. 

The System conducted its own inquiry into legislative influence over the University’s admissions in July 2013, after Regent Wallace Hall brought up issues with two emails he uncovered from one of his record requests to the University. In May, the System announced the inquiry found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing but determined letters of recommendation sent by legislators to President William Powers Jr. or a dean likely influence the admissions process. 

Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced in June that the System would launch a full external investigation of University admissions because of remaining concerns about the process.

Prior to the reading of the motion during the open session of the meeting, the regents also discussed the potential ramifications of continuing to invest System money into Russia, which has recently become overwhelmed with sanctions because of international political and social issues.

“Divesting from Russia, in and of itself, would not necessarily be an overly significant event,” said Bruce Zimmerman, CEO and CIO of the University of Texas Investment Management Company. “We have about $200 million dollars invested in Russia currently. The larger concern I think would be if we did begin putting in changes to the investment policies related to political and or social issues, then there could very well be a substantial domino effect.”

The regents agreed to continue discussing the issue at future board meetings.