UT System Regent Hall defends his actions regarding records requests

Matthew Adams

UT System Regent Wallace Hall defended his own work regarding access to public information at the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas conference Thursday.

Since being appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, Hall has requested hundreds of thousands of pages of information in an effort to investigate administrative practices at the University. In February, the Kroll Report, performed by Kroll Associates Inc., a corporate investigations and risk consulting firm, found former President William Powers, Jr. responsible for admitting undergraduate and law students who did not meet academic standards. 

During an interview with Ross Ramsey, executive editor of The Texas Tribune, Hall said that as a member of the Board of Regents, he is a fiduciary and therefore responsible for protecting the future of the institution and making sure it complies with the law.

“I came on and I do what most people do when they are fiduciaries, and that is ask a lot of questions, listen, be curious and expect to get good answers,” Hall said. “If you don’t get good answers, you continue to ask more questions which is where my trouble first began.”

Hall said he believes the systemic cover-up of information has been the biggest problem during his tenure on the board,

“Over the last four years, it has really been one cover-up after another,” Hall said. “The cover-ups are buried, but the purpose is always to hide something and in our case, it was originally from the board and from the public.”

During Hall’s continued search for information about admissions records, he filed a lawsuit against Chancellor William McRaven in June for withholding information from the Kroll Report.

At the Board of Regents meeting in July, the members voted to deny giving this information to Hall, who was excluded from the executive session and was not allowed to vote. Hall did not attend the meeting. 

The Board of Regents passed a new admissions policy at an August meeting for the purpose of reducing the impact some letters of recommendation can have in the admissions process. Hall said he is still not satisfied with the Board’s decision.

“The rule allows the president some discretion under rare circumstances to make a decision,” Hall said. “I have said internally all along if we wanted to do something like this, then let’s just be transparent. The problem with the way [the administration] anticipates doing it now is that they can do it and the board can’t review it. [The board] does not have any ability to hold anybody accountable.”  

In March, Hall was one of three regents to vote against current UT President Fenves as Powers’ replacement, but now Hall said he fully supports the president. 

“Greg Fenves is a very fine man,” Hall said. “I had my specific reasons why I was eager to have an outside candidate at the time. He has my full faith and support and I think he is doing a very
good job.”

Marian Cones, CEO and principal owner for CourthouseDirect.com, said she thought Hall made some good points, but felt unsure about his real motives.

“It seems like it was more political than having a real issue or a real concern that they were trying to resolve,” Cones said.

Kelley Shannon, executive director of Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said she thinks everyone is waiting for the records requests controversy to be resolved. 

“He is within his rights to ask for information,” Shannon said. “Every Texan has the right to ask for information and public records. What is to be determined is how much of student records he can see and how it interacts with the Board of Regents.”