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Investigative Report Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations

Investigative Report Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations

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Published by The Texas Exes
Report to the Texas House committee on transparency in state agency operations on the actions of UT Regent Wallace Hall.
Report to the Texas House committee on transparency in state agency operations on the actions of UT Regent Wallace Hall.

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Published by: The Texas Exes on Apr 09, 2014
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04/15/2014

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The June 25, 2013 Proclamation broadly charged the Committee with monitoring

the conduct of public officials to ensure that such officers are acting in the best interest of

the institutions they govern. This clause provides a catch-all standard with which Hall’s

conduct can be measured.

The Proclamation’s “best interest” language is based on the fact that Regents

appointed to the Board have a fiduciary relationship with the UT System and its

component institutions.478

Past regents testified that the overriding standard governing

the conduct of the Board was whether an action benefits the students and reflects

positively on “the University, the System, [and] the State of Texas.”479

As Chairman

Caven explained, “[O]ur board, as well as all boards, are always looking to advance and

improve the quality of the institution over which we have responsibility.”480

Other

experts on higher education governance agree.481

UT System regents are specifically

advised that their ultimate responsibility is “to do the best thing possible for the agency

478

See Caven Testimony at 71:3–22.

479

See Barnhill Testimony at 40:2–12 (“I recall so many times that when you talk
about who benefitted from a conversation like that, it was always said, ‘What is best for
the students and what is best for the tax holders?’ In other words, we — we were
concerned about a lot of issues other than just the simple vote, you know, on — on what
was on the board. But, ‘How does this benefit the — how does this benefit the student?
Will it help us attract more topnotch faculty? What reflection will it have on the
University, the System, the State of Texas?’”).

480

Caven Testimony at 45:4–7.

481

See, e.g., “Q&A: Former UT System Chancellor William Cunningham talks
money, power and politics,” THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS, August 30, 2013 (agreeing
that “the most important quality separating outstanding regents from acceptable ones is
their ‘willingness to put the UT System ahead of everything but their families.’”).

145

for which you have charge . . . the institution.”482

Intense scrutiny on an issue without a sense of scale or prioritization can be

detrimental to higher educational institutions governed by regents, even if the scrutiny is

leveled in good faith and the issue would otherwise be of concern. As Regent Barnhill

explained, “The staff, the leadership of the system that we’re familiar with is unparallel,

has been unparallel. And I think there is . . . a need to prioritize. And sometimes things

that are not quite as serious as others bubble to the top and perhaps take the attention

away -- take the leadership’s attention away from some things that are more serious.”483

Chairman Caven framed the same issue as a “responsibility” as a member of the Board:

[I]t our responsibility as a member of the Board of Regents
to put forward the best face possible. But I think
everything that we’re talking about here is part and parcel
of that, full transparency, full discussion, evaluation and
weighting of all the issues. But with 70,000 employees and
200,000 students — at least that was the case when we
were on the board — we have to depend on the individual
institutions, the leadership of those institutions, and the
leadership of the system to help us filter what are the
critical issues that need to be addressed, because we could
not — we are not capable of prioritizing those on our
own.484

While the Board can and should identify and address concerns and issues, individual

regents should not take it upon themselves to “tackle” those issues.485

This potential problem is exacerbated when an individual regent “is dictating to

employees of the system or of any of the individual components” without the collective

482

See Caven Testimony at 71:10–22.

483

Barnhill Testimony at 56:1–9.

484

Caven Testimony at 69:21–25.

485

See Barnhill Testimony at 56:17 – 57:4.

146

consent or approval of the Board.486

According to Chairman Caven, such conduct

“crosses the line.”487

Conduct that casts the UT System or its institutions in a negative light with the

State legislature is also not in the best interests of the institution. As past regents

confirmed in public hearings, “[T]he responsibility for the administration of any higher

education system is granted not by the governor, but by the Legislature.”488

Accordingly,

when a regent inserts himself or herself between the Legislature and a legislative request

for information or documents, such conduct “crosses the line.”489

In a July 15, 2013 letter to Representative Pitts, Regent Powell defended Hall’s

conduct as furthering the best interests of the UT System:

Hall’s efforts extend to bringing the U.T. System into a
competitive position nationally; especially related to
offering blended and online learning opportunities to U.T.
students. I would point out Hall’s excellent service to the
Board in terms of time and energy. I appreciate his Board
service and his dedication and hard work designed to fulfill
his fiduciary obligations.”490

The question before the Committee, however, is not whether Hall’s dedication and hard

work meet the standards for a Board member. If the investigation revealed that Hall

acted to further a personal agenda or an agenda provided by elected and unelected

individuals without a direct affiliation with the UT System or its component institutions

486

See Caven Testimony at 61:15–23.

487

Id.

488

Caven Testimony at 57:21 – 58:8. Chairman Caven went on to testify, “And so
the Legislature is certainly the ultimate authority with regard to the actions of the Board
of Regents.”

489

See id. at 62:24 – 63:2 (“Had I been chairman at the time, I would have had a very
serious conversation with such a regent and brought up the matter before the board.”).

490

Exhibit 99.

147

rather than to further the best interests of those institutions, then the Committee would

have grounds to make findings and recommendations against Hall, including the proposal

of articles of impeachment.

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