Saturday, May 2, 2015

Attorney General Paxton, U.T. Corruption, and Accountability....

"Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
Matthew 7:20

We concur with Jon Cassidy's open letter to General Paxton:

An open letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton on the UT cover-up

By   /   May 1, 2015  /   No Comments

Dear Attorney General Paxton,
Watchdog really needs your help. There is a great deal more than $38,000 riding on it.
Call it an informed prediction, but I expect you’re about to call out the management of the University of Texas System, and tell them to let Wallace Hall see the Kroll papers.
I’m also betting they’re going to flip you the bird and dare you to do something about it. UT has no intention of turning over any sensitive records to anyone short of a court order. Given Chancellor Bill McRaven’s history of destroying documents rather than complying with public records requests, I’m not sure even a court order will be enough.
This is the showdown. The University of Texas still hasn’t come clean about its backdoor admissions program — punishing nobody and reforming nothing. The members of the Board of Regents who were involved have not stepped forward to admit responsibility, and their colleagues have failed to hold them accountable, damaging their own trustworthiness. The politicians who used and abused the university haven’t been outed. The new chancellor is willing to break university rules to sweep this all under the rug.
Watchdog and Hall have asked to see the Kroll papers. We believe we have every right to see them. There are about 180,000 pages in all. UT has sent us a $38,117.60 bill just to do some digital conversion that could be accomplished in an afternoon.
Agencies get away with demanding obscene sums of money for public records, because it can be hard to prove conclusively it won’t really cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce the records. Last year, a journalist I know asked Texas A&M for lawmaker recommendation letters, and was told it would cost $119,000 to search, because it supposedly couldn’t be done electronically. But in this case, it’s an easy call.
The Kroll records may not have all the names of everyone involved in the admissions abuses. There’s already been a lot of record-shredding, and much of this was wink-and-a-nod stuff to begin with. But these records likely contain enough information to ruin the careers of a few powerful politicians from wealthy districts who should have forfeited the public trust long ago.
There were several avenues of inquiry Kroll investigators were steered away from pursuing. According to the report, although Kroll gathered some 89,000 emails from “key UT-Austin and UT-System officials and members of the Board of Regents, the scope of our review was eventually limited by UT-System and UT-Austin to emails between” a certain subset of specified officials. The number of emails Kroll actually reviewed: 9,500.
UT is the most beloved public institution in the state, yet it’s been taken over by some folks who treat it as their private club. The backdoor admissions program continues to operate; the only thing that will stop and restore trust is to end the privacy.
It’s a public school, and its records ought to be public, aside from transcripts and financial aid. If you do no more than wag a finger at the board and tell them to let Hall see the records, they will shrug your opinion off. That’s going to set a terrible precedent, and undermine your authority around the state. City councils, commissions and other governing bodies will follow UT’s high-profile example, slagging off the dissenters on their own boards and disrespecting your guidance.
You can solve this problem with sunshine. The only reason this sort of thing goes on is that your predecessors have let state universities operate with a level of secrecy more appropriate for SOCOM. The way they’re interpreting student privacy these days, you’d have to redact every page of a yearbook before anyone could see it.
If you make a clear example out of UT, you’ll also rein in other out-of-control governmental bodies across the state. But it’ll take more than a non-binding opinion. It will take the exercise of your authority over the records themselves.
Here are some decisions you could make to restore order at UT:
  • a board member gets unfettered access to institutional records, period;
  • your office has authority over which records universities must release, not the universities themselves;
  • the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act, as the Supreme Court has said, applies only to “an institutional or official record of a student” of the sort found in a registrar’s office, nevermind what federal education bureaucrats presume to instruct you;
  • emails aren’t covered by FERPA;
  • Roe v. Wade covers abortion, not law school entrance exams;
  • each redaction must be justified individually;
  • the metastasizing practice of obstructing records requestors by charging them tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars ends now; UT ought to pay a penalty for billing me $38,117.60 for some records production that could be completed in a few hours;
  • remind their records officials that a failure to give access to public information can be punished by six months in jail;
  • file for a writ of mandate at the first sign of foot-dragging.
UT is asking me to pay for copies of records compiled during its recent investigation. As you know, state law doesn’t allow agencies to charge for attorney review time. That entire amount is supposedly the cost just to make the documents ready for redaction.
UT could dump all of that data into a program called CS Disco and have it ready for redaction in a single afternoon, at a cost of a few hundred dollars, as an affidavit I’ve submitted to your office demonstrates.
Yet just to view the documents, I’m supposed to pay $17,874, which includes the cost of paying a clerk to sit for six months converting email files to .pdf one by one.
I’ve laid out the arguments for these measures in letters to your office, but unless you personally decide to give your public records staff new direction, nothing will come of them. Those staffers have all been trained to think “FERPA” is a magic word that instantly trumps any challenge.
I’m asking for your help on behalf of everyone in Texas who believes UT belongs to all of us, not to a chosen few. Is there any good reason we shouldn’t be able to see these records?
Last year, when he was a State Senator running for Attorney General, Ken Paxton told this website "I'll do whatever I can with the laws that are available to me to make sure that there is transparency at the University of Texas and anywhere in government"; this is his opportunity to act on those words.


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton: @KenPaxtonTX

University of Texas Chancellor Bill McRaven: @BillMcRaven

McRaven's Next Boss: @HillaryClinton

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