"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them."
UT Administration Building -- By an 8-1 vote, today the University of Texas Board of Regents voted to formally allow Campus Presidents to override admissions decisions in "very rare" cases of "highest institutional importance."
Today's policy change arises from the well documented scandals surrounding former UT-Austin President Bill Powers' improper conduct over the past decade. As Watchdog.org has documented, former President Powers intervened in hundreds of admissions cases, many of whom would not have been admitted without special access. Today's change tightens some rules while codifying a glaring loophole.
On the positive side, today's changes requires the University make all factors in the admissions process "readily available for prospective students." Admissions officers may only consider letters of recommendation "based on substance" rather than the position of the person sending the letter. The new policy specifically prohibits admitting potential students who have been previously denied admissions or other "egregious" cases.
Unfortunately, the new policy also contains the exception listed above. The only formal criteria is that the President's decisions must be "defensible" on an academic basis. Individual campus Presidents will be required to report to the Chancellor annually all cases where they overrode the campus admissions department. Admissions accountability for campus Presidents will be centralized in the Chancellor's office. Due to "privacy" concerns, the public will never learn about these cases. As Chancellor Bill McRaven explained, "to some degree, it's my discretion." Based on his previous record, if anyone trusts Bill McRaven to operate in an open and transparent manner, we have some mineral rights in South Texas we'd love to sell them.
On a practical level, today's action will probably restrict the worst abuses. For example, it's hard to see the Jim Pitts case moving forward under the new rules. Former state representative Jim Pitts (who chaired the appropriations committee), retired in disgrace in 2013 after it became public that his son Ryan was admitted to UT Law school despite having scored 155 on his LSAT.
Regent Wallace Hall was the only dissent. Hall protested the fact the 15 minutes of discussion that preceded today's vote was the only time the Board has discussed either admissions corruption or the Kroll Report. As Wallace explained, today's vote "memorializes bad acts from a hidden admissions program."
Bottom Line: While the new rules modestly rein in the most public abuses, making the Office of the Chancellor (without a public paper trail) the only check on Presidential admissions overrides tells you everything you need to need to know about the new University of Texas admissions policy.
Update: Watchdog has more here.