Report released showing Powers’ involvement in admissions

Josh Willis

President William Powers Jr. helped secure admittance for students over objections of admissions office, according to a report released Thursday by the UT System Board of Regents.

The report, performed by Kroll Associates Inc., a corporate investigations and risk consulting firm, shows that Powers put pressure on undergraduate admissions officials for some of the recommended students.

“There are instances in which applicants do not succeed in the standard admissions process and the President’s Office will request, and in some cases direct, that certain files be reviewed again,” the report said.

According to the report, a former high-level admissions official said there was “frequent pressure placed on the Admissions Office by the President’s Office.” The report said Powers designated his chief of staff, Nancy Brazzil, or her assistant, to “keep an eye on particular applicants with the Admissions Office.”

The report said meetings occurred between the admissions director and Brazzil before admission decision deadlines.

“Admissions was essentially ‘forced to admit’ many of these applicants over the objection of Admissions, including some applicants who, in this former official’s opinion, clearly did not qualify for admission,” the report said.

Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, said Brazzil called to talk with Sager about students who had applied to the law school as many as 20 times per year.

“Sager acknowledged that the intensity of Brazzil’s interest in a candidate ‘may have on occasion swayed my decision,’” the report said.

The report found no evidence of the establishment “‘of a systematic, structured, or centralized process of reviewing and admitting applicants recommended by influential individuals;’ and no evidence of overt pressure on Admissions Office staff to admit applicants based on the recommendations of persons of influence.”

The report shows that, despite there being no evidence of  systematic approval of students who had one of the letters of recommendation, admission rates for applicants with letters of recommendation were “significantly higher” than that of other applicants.  

In the report, Kroll looked to understand the process of how the University handles recommendation letters from a “friend of the university” or “person of influence”. The report defines “person of influence” as a public official, UT System official, university official, Board of Regent member, important donor or important alumnus.                             

“‘Sending recommendation letters directly to the U.T. president has been a widespread and longstanding practice by a host of distinguished individuals, [and thus] any problems with this practice would seem to be much more a matter of culture than individual misconduct,’” the report said.

In July 2013, former UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa authorized a limited inquiry into the matter in response to Regent Wallace Hall’s concerns regarding Powers admitting students that had letters of recommendation from powerful legislators.

In June 2014, Cigarroa said the UT System would expand the investigation and contracted Kroll to perform the investigation.