Got a bunch of links building up concerning Wallace Hall, Joe Straus and related topics that I’m just going to shotgun out here:
Posts Tagged ‘University of Texas’
We’ve known, from the drips and dabs that slipped out, that the UT admissions scandal was worse than the Kroll report actually let on. But we didn’t know it was ten times worse:
At least 764 applicants initially denied admission to the University of Texas were admitted thanks to a backdoor program for the wealthy and politically connected administered by former president Bill Powers.
More than 200 of those applicants were admitted despite having their applications cancelled by the Admissions Office.
The total is more than 10 times the 73 applicants widely reported from an investigation paid for by the university and conducted by Kroll Associates. Kroll withheld the full findings from its 107-page final report.
The Kroll investigation confirmed what had been common knowledge in the wealthy Dallas-area community of Highland Park, which includes UT Regent Wallace Hall and House Education Committee chair Dan Branch: students were getting into UT at extraordinary rates, despite bad grades.
UT admitted seven Highland Park students with grade point averages below 2.0 and SAT scores below 800.
The very worst of the students UT admitted, the investigation showed, were clustered in the districts of Branch, House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), and Sen. Kirk Watson, (D-Austin).
Straus has gone to even greater lengths than UT to cover up the abuses. He authorized a special committee operating behind the scenes in an effort to impeach Hall for asking too many questions about the admissions process.
A very cynical part of me wonders if this is the root of Straus’ stranglehold on the Speaker’s office: his power as the go-to fixer for getting unqualified students into UT.
If you hadn’t heard, Wallace Hall, who uncovered the scandal, is suing UT chancellor William McRaven for access to the documents Texas attorney general Ken Paxton has already said he’s entitled to.
Indeed, UT’s dishonest coverup may be a big factor in the Supreme Court in agreeing to hear an appeal on Fisher vs. University of Texas, “a 2008 lawsuit brought by a white student claiming the university’s diversity-seeking admissions system had unfairly deprived her of admission.”
The Dallas Observer‘s Jim Schutze (who, unlike myself, favors affirmative action) explains:
The court did receive a blistering friend-of-the-court brief (see copy below) from the Cato Institute, a conservative think-tank, in support of Fisher’s request to be heard again. The Cato brief called the court’s attention to an investigation of admissions at UT that grew out of the Hall disclosures. Cato told SCOTUS the investigation proved that UT’s “claimed diversity rationale is a sham.”
That would be new evidence, maybe. But if it goes to the university’s core integrity – if the university has been lying to the courts about why it handles admissions the way it does – then maybe it’s not so new. Maybe it goes right to the heart of the existing case.
We have talked here often before about revelations brought forward by Hall showing that the former president of the university and some of the regents were handing out undergraduate admissions to sons and daughters of influential state legislators the way favors of love are distributed in a bawdy house. But does that kind of corruption go to the affirmative action question?
Nobody knows if the Cato amicus brief played any role at all in the high court’s eventual decision to rehear Fisher. But if it did, this would be why: When the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 to send Fisher back down to the 5th Circuit, the court said the lower court needed to take a tougher look at the university’s admissions policies. The Supreme Court told the lower court not to just take the university at its word but to examine the university’s admissions closely under a doctrine called “strict scrutiny.”
The 5th Circuit basically said yeah, yeah, OK, we strict scrutinied them, and we still trust them. So the 5th Circuit upheld the university. Fisher appealed back to the Supreme Court saying the 5th Circuit hadn’t really done the strict scrutiny strictly enough.
Then along comes the Wallace Hall evidence of an under-the-table secret admissions program the university forgot to tell the courts about. In fact, Hall’s investigation found evidence of lying, destruction of documents, coercion – enough story lines for an entire season of The Sopranos, all having to do with UT admissions.
A Supreme Court case is likely to bring national attention to a scandal the local mainstream media has tried to downplay or bury. And if it turns out UT actually lied to the courts, well, that sort of thing tends to make federal judges a mite testy…
(Hat tip: Push junction.)
Remember the Kroll Report, the look into the University of Texas’ system of preferential admissions for unqualified friends and relatives of the well-connected? The one that showed UT Regent Wallace Hall was right and his critics were wrong?
Now it turns out that the Kroll report whitewashed some aspects of the UT scandal, namely how low the LSAT scores were for some of those well-connected applicants:
“Of 6,155 admitted applicants from 2010 to 2014, only four were admitted with an LSAT score below 150,” Kroll reported. Also, “During the time period reviewed, we found only two applicants who were admitted with both an undergraduate GPA below 3.0 and LSAT score below 155; however, both applicants belonged to an under-represented minority group and had valuable public sector experience before applying to law school.”
Actually, Kroll found dozens of students with LSAT scores below 150, and even found three students admitted during the Powers years with scores in the 130s.
It’s impossible to say now exactly how many underqualified students were admitted, as UT redacted the tallies. We can say that in 2004, UT Law admitted at least one person with each of the following scores: 137, 140, 141, 144, 147, 148 and 149.
In 2005, UT Law admitted at least one person with each of the following scores: 137, 140, 141, 143, 144, 147, 148 and 149.
In 2006, the low scores recorded were 137, 141, 143, 146, 147, 148 and 149.
So who ordered the Kroll to spike its findings?
“Vice Chancellor Dan Sharphorn oversaw the report. He reports directly to Chancellor Bill McRaven.”
Ongoing lawsuits by Watchdog.org and a Dallas Morning News columnist may succeed in getting past UT’s stonewalling (“In response to a public records request, UT last week produced a key 24,536-page document from the Kroll files, with every last page redacted.”) to cast some light on the subject.
(Hat tip: Instapundit.)
After the grand jury failed to indict him, Wallace Hall fired back at Texas House Speaker Joe Straus:
“The campaign by Speaker (Joe) Straus, Representative (Dan) Flynn and Senator (Kel) Seliger to criminalize my service as a Regent constitutes abuse of office,” Hall said in a statement. “Their use of the levers of political power to cover up wrongdoing by legislators should now be investigated, and those exposed for their abuses should be driven from office.”
The piece also points out the numerous vested interests of people who have weighed in against Hall.
That should be the headline as yet another establishment attempt to punish UT regent Wallace Hall for the crime of actually doing his job fails. Or, if you prefer: “Wallace Hall: More Honest Than a Ham Sandwich.”
But chances are good that you’ve seen headlines like “Jury Criticizes Wallace Hall” or “Wallace Hall should step down,” based on four pages of “recommendations” from the Travis County jury. The lack of an indictment is important, the non-indictment condemnations are just dicta, statements of opinion that have no force of law. We do not let grand juries establish public policy for the same reasons we don’t have legislatures indict random citizens for crimes: it is not among their enumerated responsibilities.
Those trying to bury UT’s admissions scandal have thrown everything possible at him, but Hall has been proven right time and time again. After the latest grand jury shenanigans, Hall is still standing while UT President Bill Powers was forced to resign in disgrace.
Further attacks on Hall will only continue to prove that his critics are spiteful, petty defenders of corruption.
Every time new revelations come to light about the UT Admissions Scandal, they’ve always proven that UT regent Wallace Hall was right to launch his investigation, and that his critics were wrong to attempt to bury it (and him). The latest revelations are no exception:
University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers used his authority to get “must have” applicants admitted to the state’s flagship school and misled internal lawyers looking into influence peddling in the admissions process in both the undergraduate college and UT’s top-ranked law school, an independent investigation obtained by The Dallas Morning News has found.
The wide-ranging investigation ordered by former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa found that Powers overruled his admissions office and exercised broad control when it came to favored applicants – some of whom had the recommendation of powerful people in this state.
That report is the Kroll Report. What they found was what Wallace Hall alleged: That there was one admissions process for ordinary applicants, and another for the well-connected. “Applicants with special connections had a 72% acceptance rate compared to 40% overall.”
Let’s look at some details of the process from the Kroll report summary:
Review of Undergraduate Admissions Process
When an inquiry or recommendation concerning a candidate for admission is forwarded to the President’s Office from a “friend of the university” or other “person of influence” – which may include a public official, a member of the Board of Regents or UT-System official, an important alumnus or alumna, a major donor, a faculty member or other UT-Austin official – a long-standing practice has been to place a “hold” on that candidate’s application. The purpose of a hold is to indicate that a negative decision may not become final until the party which placed the hold is notified. Since 2009, certain hold designations have been entered on UT-Austin’s mainframe computer with the designation of “Q,” “L,” or “B.” A designation of “Q hold” indicates the application is being monitored by the President’s Office. An “L hold” indicates that the application is of interest to one of the college Deans. When both the President’s Office and a college Dean request a hold, the file is designated as a “B hold” applicant. (Several other types of holds exist for a variety of reasons; however, as explained later in this report, the only holds within the scope of Kroll’s investigation, and thus of interest for purposes of this report, are Q, L, and B holds.) Due in part to the increased competitiveness of undergraduate admissions at UT-Austin, and in part because recordkeeping is now computerized, Q-hold volumes have escalated considerably 13 over the past several years. Under President Powers, Q holds have totaled as many as 300 applicants of interest per year. The majority of holds appear to be based on requests from Texas legislators and members of the Board of Regents, while others are instigated by requests from the Chancellor’s Office, donors and alumni. The existence of holds combined with end-of-cycle meetings between the Admissions Office and the President’s Office, during which final decisions are made on all hold candidates not already admitted, has caused increasing levels of tension between the Admissions Office and the President’s Office. In recent years, President Powers, acting through his Chief of Staff, has at times made holistic determinations that differed from that of the Admissions Office. Consequently, it appears that a select handful of applicants each year are admitted over the objection of the Admissions Office. The President’s Office has acknowledged to Kroll that this has occurred, but insists that decisions are always made with the “best interests of the university” in mind. Based on our investigation, there is no evidence that any applicants have been admitted as a result of a quid pro quo or other inappropriate promise or exchange. There also is no evidence that efforts were made to “save spots” for certain applicants or that a dual system of admissions has been informally established. However, it is acknowledged that additional acceptances are sent out each year to accommodate special cases. With certain “must have” applicants, the President’s Office ordered applicants admitted over the objection of the Admissions Office. Because written records or notes of meetings and discussions between the President’s Office and Admissions are not maintained and are typically shredded, it is not known in particular cases why some applicants with sub-par academic credentials were placed on a hold list and eventually admitted. Rarely was it discussed why particular applicants needed to be admitted, or what, if any, connections the applicants had with persons of influence. But President Powers acknowledged to Kroll that “relational factors” do occasionally play an important role in determinations to admit some applicants who might not have otherwise been admitted. Over a six-year period, applicants on whom a hold of any type was placed were admitted 72% of the time, compared to an overall admission rate of approximately 40%. Texas residents accounted for 82% of all applicants placed on a hold list. Email correspondence reviewed by Kroll further confirmed that a relationship with university officials has on occasion provided applicants a competitive boost in the admissions process. The total number of arguably less-qualified applicants who have benefitted from the hold system and the President’s oversight of the hold candidates appears to be relatively small. Indeed, from 2009 to 2014, Kroll identified a total of only 73 enrolled applicants who were admitted with both a combined SAT score of less than 1100 and a high school GPA of less than 2.9. Kroll’s review of the available “outlier” files found that political connections may have influenced the admission decision in a small number of cases, while other cases suggested the possibility of alumni/legacy influence despite the prohibition under Texas law against legacy admissions. Several other cases, however, suggested a demonstrated commitment to ethnic and racial diversity and the consideration of other appropriate criteria. While it is often not clear why a particular applicant was placed on hold or received special consideration, the President’s Office acknowledged to Kroll that legislative letters and calls are typically accorded more weight than other letters and calls because legislative oversight impacts the university. In short, while it is impossible to conclude with absolute certainty from a review of the data and selected files alone that any one particular applicant benefitted from undue influence or pressure exerted on the admissions process, it is readily apparent that certain applicants are admitted at the instigation of the President over the assessment of the Admissions Office. The end-of-cycle meeting between the President’s Office and Admissions Office results each year in certain applicants receiving a competitive boost or special consideration in the admissions process. The data reviewed by Kroll confirms what President Powers and others have acknowledged, that relationships matter and are the deciding factor in admissions decisions for a select handful of applicants each year. Although the practice of holds and exercise of presidential discretion over Admissions may not violate any existing law, rule, or policy, it is an aspect of the admissions process that does not appear in UT-Austin’s public representations. Several other important constituents are at least partially complicit for this ad-hoc system of special admissions. For example, the Board of Regents sends approximately 50 to 70 names of applicants to the President’s Office each year. Similarly, many names are placed on a hold list as a result of requests from the Chancellor’s Office, the UT-System Office of Government Relations, major donors and alumni. In most years, there are certain legislators and Regents whose names are noted more than others. It would appear that these other bodies send inquiries concerning student applicants to the President’s Office with the expectation that such applicants be closely monitored by that office. Kroll notes that the existence of holds and watch lists, and the end-of-cycle meetings between the President’s Office and the Admissions Office, were not disclosed or specifically addressed by President Powers and his Chief of Staff during an internal Admissions Inquiry previously conducted by the UT-System. Although President Powers and his Chief of Staff appear to have answered the specific questions asked of them with technical precision, it appears that by their material omissions they misled the inquiry. At minimum, each failed to speak with the candor and forthrightness expected of people in their respective positions of trust and leadership.
Review of Law School Admissions Process
By design and practice, UT Law School also utilizes a holistic admissions process. Although the law school requires no minimum LSAT score and only a 2.2 undergraduate GPA from an accredited institution, it is apparent that GPA and LSAT scores play a prominent role in admissions decisions. This fact, which is true of virtually all nationally ranked law schools, is driven in large part by the importance of GPA and LSAT in the perceived competitiveness of the law school and how it affects national rankings. Unlike many law schools, UT Law School does not rely on an Admissions Committee to review application files or to render individual admissions decisions. Instead, almost all individual admissions decisions are made by either the Assistant Dean for Admission and Financial Aid or by the Director of Admission Programs. Consequently, although Kroll found that the professionals in these positions perform their jobs with expertise and integrity, the system as designed insufficiently prevents final admissions decisions from potentially being influenced by external factors, including informal discussions with the Dean after receiving letters, phone calls or contacts from persons of influence. For example, members of the Texas legislature and other persons of influence frequently call or write in support of particular law school candidates outside of normal application procedures, and the Dean’s Office receives numerous calls from legislators urging the admission of certain applicants. Kroll found no evidence that the Dean or others at the law school acted improperly or in any way compromised the integrity of the admissions process. Nevertheless, the system as designed presents these well-intentioned professionals with potentially difficult balancing acts and ethical quandaries. When the Dean’s Office receives information about a law school applicant from a trusted source, the recent practice has been for the Dean to informally review the applicant’s credentials and determine whether a case for admission is plausible. If so, the Dean discusses the matter with the Assistant Dean for Admission and Financial Aid. As long as a final decision has not been made and communicated to the applicant, the Dean feels free to discuss any information received about an applicant with the Assistant Dean. In some instances, the resulting discussions have changed the mind of the Assistant Dean regarding a candidate for admission. The President of UT-Austin also receives calls and letters from persons of influence concerning law school applicants. When this occurs, the President’s Office advises the law school (usually the Dean) of these interests. From 2006 to 2012, former Dean Larry Sager received 10 to 20 calls a year from Nancy Brazzil about President Powers’ interest in certain law school applicants. Brazzil made clear she spoke for the President’s Office. Sager acknowledged that the intensity of Brazzil’s interest in a candidate may “have on occasion swayed my decision.”
There’s a good bit more, but those are some of the highlights.
Indeed, Cigarroa admitted that “Fairness has at times been compromised in the admission of students into the University of Texas at Austin.”
Over at Watchdog.org, Jon Cassidy puts the total admissions number of unqualified applicants as in the thousands.
He’s not the only one who thinks it’s a big deal. Over at The Dallas Observer, Jim Schutze says “To every single applicant who ever got turned down by UT, I say this: Your wildest most paranoid imagining of why you got screwed and how they really do admissions at UT was nowhere near wild or paranoid enough. We’re talking about admissions meetings where university officials shred all their notes before leaving the room.” He also notes, yet again, what a horrific whitewash job UT’s own internal investigation was.
Also this: “Kroll looked at a sample of 73 smelly admissions files tied to legislators. In that sample, four affluent high schools in Texas accounted for 45 percent of the sample. Among the four, Highland Park High School was way out ahead at No. 1 with a third of all the dicey admissions in the whole sample.”
Well, who could possibly object to rich, well-connected kids getting to cut into the admissions line ahead of mere commoners?
While UT defenders are quick to assert that “no criminal activity occurred,” Cassidy believes that the blatant favoritism for legacy admissions may have violated the state education code, which states “the university must continue its practice of not considering an applicant’s legacy status as a factor in the university’s decisions relating to admissions for that academic year.”
The Dallas Morning News piece notes:
Many of Powers’ current problems can be traced to the work of UT Regent Wallace Hall, a man who has been pilloried for personally examining the admissions process.
The Kroll report appears to vindicate Hall’s work and add weight to his concerns that political and financial influence dictated some admissions decisions.
Hall’s inquiries into the admissions process led to him being targeted by state legislators, including House Speaker Joe Straus and former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Dewhurst was forcibly retired by Dan Patrick. Straus, have course, has been one of Hall’s staunchest foes, and shows every sign of desiring to continue UT’s culture of admissions favors for the well-connected indefinitely…
Back when the University of Texas Law School “forgivable loan” scandal broke, I said it was for all intents and purposes a slush fund and a serious ethical problem for UT.
I didn’t know the half of it.
For years before a forgivable loan scandal forced him to resign as dean of the University of Texas Law School in 2011, Lawrence Sager was running up annual six-figure bills on a credit card paid for by the UT Law School Foundation.
From 2007 to 2010, Sager racked up $401,498.29 on that card, all of it paid by the foundation, apart from tens of thousands in other expenses for conferences, computers, club dues, food, travel, storage units and other items.
I can imagine numerous scenarios where a UT law school dean could rack up $400,000 in credit card expenses, but most of them involve words like “gambling,” “hookers” and “blow.”
More from Cassidy:
In all, the foundation has spent more than $1 million in compensating and reimbursing Sager. That’s just a fraction, however, of the $68 million the foundation has spread around UT during the past decade, most of it compensating the school’s faculty and administrators.
The question the attorney general’s report does not answer, or even ask, is whether the members of the Law School Foundation have received anything in return for their largesse. Reporting by Watchdog.org has established that many children of generous foundation members have been admitted into UT Law, although there is little evidence that would cast doubt on their qualifications.
More on that “forgiveable loan”:
The report says that “under Dean Sager’s leadership the Law School provided incorrect or incomplete responses to requests for salary information by both University management and the public pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act. To settle a lawsuit, both Foundation and public funds were expended in order to paper over a climate of non-disclosure.”
Scott also faulted Sager for concealing the $500,000 forgivable loan he procured for himself, reporting that “the Law School maintained two forgivable loan lists — one that contained Dean Sager’s $500,000 forgivable loan and one that excluded that particular loan.”
Keeping two sets of books is a classic indicator of financial fraud.
Thus far I have only skimmed the official Attorney General report on the loan issue (much less dug through all of the appendices), but there are several other questionable practices highlighted, like an unrecorded, $25,000 payment to one faculty member.
As Dallas Observer writer Jim Schutze notes, the state media continues to ignore the scandal regent Wallace Hall uncovered:
Cassidy’s and Williamson’s reporting was uniformly ignored by reporters and editorial pages of the state’s mainstream media. Most of the state’s major editorial pages joined the exposed members of the Legislature in denouncing Hall. An ad hoc committee of the Texas House of Representatives labored for months to find a way to remove Hall from the board of regents. When their own lawyers told them Hall hadn’t done anything for which he could be impeached and was in fact carrying out the duties of a regent, the committee slapped Hall instead with a gratuitous and toothless “censure,” an act with the legal meaning and gravitas of “fuck you anyway.”
And while he may no longer be Dean, Sager is still listed among UT law faculty.
The report goes to show, once again, that Wallace Hall was right about the need for tighter and deeper board oversight at UT. And that UT’s stables still haven’t been fully swept out…
The Hall piece details what members of the conservative Texas blogsphere (myself included) have been saying for over a year: Hall was right, his critics were wrong:
When Hall began to criticize the way UT-Austin was run on strictly administrative grounds, he was roundly denounced as a sort of fifth-columnist for Perry’s assault on tenure. Later when he accused the university of corruption, he was hunted like a witch.
A campaign launched against Hall included impeachment proceedings in the Legislature and a criminal complaint brought to the Travis County district attorney. Even the establishment press turned on Hall, whose greatest sin was doing what the press is supposed to do — ask questions that make powerful people uncomfortable. An unbroken chorus of editorial page shrieking from Texas’ biggest newspapers denounced Hall and called for his resignation.
The dramatic denouement is threefold: Hall has been vindicated of charges he abused his role as a regent. The charges of mismanagement and corruption he brought against UT are all being re-investigated because now people are admitting he was on to something. And finally, Hall’s biggest accusers are starting to look like the biggest rats, the ones who had the most to hide.
In fact it’s hard to recall a case in Texas history where a person so roundly denounced has been so completely vindicated.
Williamson, the reporter at The National Review, said in an email: “The Texas dailies have fallen down on the job covering this story, mainly because reporters perceive this as a confrontation between Rick Perry and the University of Texas, and they are reflexively hostile to Rick Perry.
“I’ve spent most of my life in the newspaper business, and I know bias when I see it: If there were a suggestion that Rick Perry were twisting arms to get family members into A&M, it would be on the front page of The Austin American-Statesman. But when the malefactors are UT administrators and the whistle-blowers are Perry appointees, reporters in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio become strangely incurious.”
While there isn’t a whole lot new to Schutze’s piece if you’ve been following the story on this and other blogs, the fact that even lefty alternative weeklies now have the same take on the scandal as Michael Quinn Sullivan is a big step forward for justice and transparency, and I commend the entirety of the piece to your attention.
(Hat tip: Push Junction.)
Evidently the Board of Regents accepted Bill Powers counteroffer, as he will stay on as UT President through June 2, 2015. (Previously.)
If you’re still unclear on why Powers should go, here are ten reasons he should step down.
Evidently the slow-burning University of Texas admissions scandal will finally cost President Bill Powers his job. “UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has told Powers, 68, to resign before Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Regents or be fired during it.”
I doubt Powers counteroffer to step down in 2015 will be accepted. (I do wonder what makes Houston Chronicle writer Benjamin Wermund proclaim that Powers is “widely supported by students”? Has he seen polls on Powers popularity on students? (Online petitions don’t count) I would think they would be more concerned with lowering tuition costs than support a President resisting calls to lower them.)
Which is not to say that Powers backers are giving up. Instead, they’re lashing out at the board of regents:
The more angry and indignant among the petition signers seem to think some organized debate about UT and its president is going forth, and that their champion is, unfairly, of course, getting the worst of it. It would be an odd thing to think. There isn’t anything like a public debate about Bill Powers going forward. There’s rancor and division — nearly all of it coming from the side that professes to despise rancor and division, the Powers side.
The admissions scandal has been building for some time on Powers’ watch. (Nor is it the only problem under Powers.) Instead of investigating it and fixing the problem, Powers decided the best move was to have his political friends attempt to impeach regent Wallace Hall in order to quash his investigation while Powers’ supporters launched an Astroturf campaign on his behalf that’s included no end of MSM editorials praising Powers while attacking Hall and Governor Perry for daring to hold him accountable.
The university academic complex evidently believe that they’re a special kind of hothouse flower that should be immune to all political pressure, with a right to public funding but not to public accountability. Powers has constantly resisted calls to make college more affordable, and to be more accountable to the Board of Regents who oversee his work and the state government that pays his bills.
It seems that Powers will be the latest official to learn that pride goeth before a fall.