|Regent Wallace Hall testifies this afternoon|
"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
Travis County Courthouse -- It takes a special combination of arrogance, incompetence, and mendacity for an organization to a defendant in two MAJOR court cases in one day separated by 1500 miles. Today, the University of Texas earned that dubious distinction. We will leave it to others to comment on Fischer v. University of Texas in Washington D.C.; we were in Austin for the district court hearing in Hall v. McRaven.
Today's lawsuit springs out of the University's refusal to grant Regent Wallace Hall access to records from an external investigation into corruption in the admissions process. Last February, the University received a report compiled by Kroll Associates ('The Kroll Report') that documented political favoritism via the office of disgraced former UT-Austin President Bill Powers in the admissions process. Subsequent press reports have detailed political favoritism far beyond anything reported by Kroll.
Today's hearing revolved around which records Regent Hall is allowed to review as part of his fiduciary responsibility to the University. Regent Hall's legal team argued that for him to be able to root out improper influence from legislators and other Regents, he needed to be able to review SAT scores and GPA for the relevant candidates. The University countered that student specific data was prohibited from disclosure under the Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA).
University General Council Dan Sharphorn was the University's 'star' witness. For two hours, he filibustered using circular reasoning and non-sequiters on the relationship between FERPA and the fiduciary duty of a University Regent. Sharphorn routinely "did not know," "could not recall," and "was not positive" under questioning from Hall's attorneys. Sharphorn refused to give a straight answer as to how he would define a "legitimate educational interest" as it pertains to the Kroll report. Hall's lawyers got Sharphorn to admit his office missed the extent of political favoritism in the admissions process in it's own investigation until a whistle-blower came forward. By the end of Sharphorn's testimony, it was clear that "student privacy" was a euphemism for 'cover-up,' and "I do not recall" was a euphemism for "F[REDACTED]K YOU."
University of Texas Chancellor Bill McRaven, the defendant in the case, testified next. McRaven referred to his previous military career seven times, including three mentions of his role in the bin Laden raid, yet he never mentioned his role covering up the deaths of SEAL Team 6. McRaven spent considerable time discussing the allegedly new admissions policy he shepherded through the Board of Regents following the Kroll Report. McRaven notably failed to define the phrase "very rare" as it pertains to the allegedly new policy he was promoting so vociferously. McRaven, who assumed his current position in January, was unfamiliar with the sequencing of events prior to his tenure. McRaven didn't have a good answer to questions from Hall's attorney about Powers' insistence upon destroying the paper trail following admissions discussions. All of McRaven's answers were variations upon the theme that the University was willing to provide Regent Hall with anything he requested so long as it could not confirm the accuracy and completeness of the Kroll report.
Hall faced questioning from his attorney at the end of the day. He explained how, when he joined the Board in 2011, he vowed "not to be a rubber stamp." He told how he first learned about the corrupt admissions process (and a separate 'forgivable loan' program) as part of an effort he lead to put University records online. Regarding the Kroll Report specifically, Hall said his suspicions were aroused after former President Powers failed to identify certain "pressures" he claimed were placed upon his office. In addition, that the Kroll Report exceeded the mandate it had been given by the University stimulated Hall's curiosity. Unfortunately, the University's refusal to turn the relevant documents over to Hall makes him unable to verify the Kroll Report. Time ran out on today's hearing before the University's lawyers could cross-examine Hall, but they will do so when the hearing resumes tomorrow.
Bottom Line: Today's hearing was more of the same BS we've come to expect from U.T. the past three years. The hearing will resume tomorrow morning at 10 am. Due to a prior commitment, we will not attend.