May 15, 2014
Staff | Austin American-Statesman
After months of creating toxic distractions as a member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, Wallace Hall Jr. needs to step down from his post. Members of the Legislature made it clear they thought so, too.
But other things within the Regents board must change as well.
+UT System regent Wallace Hall’s resignation is best solution photo ERIC GAY
Regent Wallace Hall, of Dallas, takes part in a University of Texas Regents meeting in Austin last year. A Texas House ... Read More
On Monday, a state House panel concluded by a 7-1 vote that grounds exist for impeaching Hall. After the vote, some members of the Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations expressed hope that Hall would avoid the lengthy process by stepping down. On Thursday, UT System Board Chairman Paul Foster and two fellow regents publicly asked for Hall to resign. Hall should heed their call. If he chooses not to, the transparency committee will have little choice but to recommend his impeachment, which we support if all other options are exhausted.
Since late last year, Hall has been under investigation for allegations that he overstepped his bounds as a regent and conducted what some legislators have called a “witch hunt” aimed at UT-Austin President Bill Powers. As part of its investigation, the House panel referred its report on Hall to the Travis County district attorney and the county attorney for possible criminal prosecution on grounds of “improper use” of confidential student information, which is a violation of state laws.
There’s no dancing around that what got Hall into trouble was his almost pathological need to make large, burdensome information requests at UT-Austin, and only UT-Austin. Hall has shown little interest in any of the other 15 institutions that makes up the UT System. But this is not why he needs to step down.
Possible criminal charges aside, his rogue approach to getting information and the cost associated with his actions on UT-Austin, its employees, students and staff serve as reasons why he should go.
To say that the amount of open records request Hall has made — and continues to make — is out of the ordinary is an understatement. Yes, Hall did file some open records request as a citizen. The request resulted in a few thousand pages of information. But he has since also made many more petitions solely on his regency right that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of pages of information. The House Transparency Committee report on Hall concluded that he made 1,200 requests that resulted in 800,000 pages of documents and cost the university $1 million. School officials stand by those numbers.
Part of the problem that contributed to the unconventional amount of requests is the lack protocol for regents making public records information requests. This, regardless of Hall’s fate, must change.
For unity’s sake, the UT System must establish clearly defined rules for all regents to follow when making information requests. In February the UT System’s governing board adopted tighter procedures for its members’ information requests, while also granting the members wide latitude to obtain records and data. What also needs to be defined is how a regent communicates his or her concerns with the board, chair and chancellor. Just as importantly, there should be unmistakably defined consequences for not complying with procedures.
Still, supporters say Hall’s demand for official documents has raised valid questions about open records policies, political influence in admissions and other matters.
The fate of Hall’s future as regent lies in the hands of those who do not agree that Hall has been the best representative for the System.
On more than one occasion, transparency committee co-chair Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, has referred to Hall’s refusal to cooperate as “a slap in the face.”
Throughout the investigation, Hall has insisted there has been no wrongdoing.
“My efforts as a regent are to serve the interests of our great educational institutions, the students, faculty, and staff who make them great, and the taxpayers who fund them, not to appease a privileged class who abuse them,” Hall said on Monday.
Those are admirable words. Looking closely at Hall’s actions, it appears that is all they are: words.
Regents not only have a duty to taxpayers but also serve as ambassadors to the UT System institutions. While rummaging through thousands of documents to find something — anything — on Powers, Hall seems to have lost sight of those responsibilities.
He’s cost taxpayers more money than was necessary and he’s done nothing to help improve any of the nine UT campuses or six health institutions. In short, he’s done little to earn any confidence as a regent.
If Hall opts not to step down prior to impeachment proceedings, the panel’s next step is to present the reasons why Hall ought to be removed from office, also known as articles of impeachment. Currently, there is no deadline the panel must meet, but members of the panel are scheduled to meet May 21 and 22. If the panel votes to approve a minimum of one article, it will be enough to constitute a formal recommendation of impeachment. That said, impeaching him could possibly set a dangerous precedent, not to mention that the process has the potential to be long and costly to the state.
Hall needs to put pride aside and do what is best for the UT System. As long as he remains a regent, he continues to be a distraction, further tarnishing the university’s reputation.