UT Regent claims ‘VIP’ students accepted for connections, not merit

UT Tower on Aug. 1, 2016 (KXAN Photo)
UT Tower (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall is taking his fight to the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday with evidence he says demonstrate students with powerful connections, who are not necessarily qualified for admission, are being accepted.

Hall has been trying to pursue this claim of unqualified students being admitted for more than two years. With his term as Regent is up Feb. 1,  the Texas Supreme Court has limited time to make a ruling. Two lower courts have already dismissed his lawsuit against UT Chancellor William McRaven.

Hall sued in an effort to force the release of e-mails, notes, and information from an admissions investigation that found former UT President Bill Powers sometimes ordered certain students to get admitted because of VIP connections. The big question Hall is trying to figure out is who those powerful people are who allowed the students to get in.

FILE - In this July 10, 2013, file photo, Regent Wallace Hall, of Dallas, takes part in a University of Texas Regents meeting in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE – In this July 10, 2013, file photo, Regent Wallace Hall, of Dallas, takes part in a University of Texas Regents meeting in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

McRaven argues Hall doesn’t meet the federal standard to access private student files and federal law protects student privacy.

“What Chancellor McRaven is saying is basically giving these un-redacted documents that Wallace Hall wants would basically violate their privacy – what he would say is it would violate federal law,” says Matthew Watkins, Higher Education Reporter with the Texas Tribune. “So basically he said we’ll give you the details but you can’t know the students or specific details like that and he says that should be enough for what Wallace Hall is looking for.”

Hall claims his job as Regent is to have oversight over UT and withholding information sets a bad precedent.

“What he’s basically arguing in court is as a feudary of UT he should have access to whatever documents he needs in order to perform his oversight duty,” says Watkins. “Once he doesn’t have an oversight duty he presumably wouldn’t have a right to those records at all.”

Lawyers for each side will have 20 minutes to present their case Wednesday. There’s no word on when the court might make its decision but they are aware Hall’s term is up at the end of the month. However, Hall’s attorney says until someone else is appointed by the governor and confirmed, he still holds that position. Because the records he seeks are electronic, his attorney argues it won’t take much time to discover the information he is seeking.

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