Lyle Larson

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

When liberal arts sophomore Madi Maino, originally from Virginia, prepared to move to Texas for college, her image of the state boiled down to one thing: a cowboy wearing boots and a hat.  

“When I came down here, I remember driving and seeing cowboys working on the side of the road — working on fences or something,” Maino said. “They were wearing stereotypical boots, jeans, a big belt buckle and a cowboy hat.”

The House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee heard a resolution Tuesday that, if passed, would further confirm Maino’s initial impression. Several representatives, led by author Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown), proposed a resolution that would make the cowboy hat Texas’s official headgear. The bill was left pending in committee.

Farney, who did not attend the hearing, wrote in the resolution that the cowboy hat is a “stylish” representation of Texas’ history, worthy of its own recognition by the 84th legislature.

“The cowboy hat is recognized all over the world as a symbol of the Texas Western heritage,” said Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), who spoke on Farney’s behalf. “It’s very distinctive when you wear that hat anywhere in the world. People ask the question, whether you’re from Colorado or Texas — ‘Are you
a cowboy?’”

Texas currently has more than 50 official state symbols — chili is the state dish, the Texas Toad is the state amphibian and the state’s official epic poem is “The Legend of Old Stone Ranch.” 

The modern cowboy hat’s origins date back to the 19th century, when a Philadelphia hat maker, John Stetson, made an exaggerated version of popular hats such as fedoras and bowler hats, according to Jeannette Vaught, a Ph.D. candidate who researches the history of cowboys and rodeos in the state.

The hats became a status symbol because of their high price tags. As the hat grew in popularity, different styles emerged across the nation. Vaught said the hat is part of Western culture as a whole but is especially associated with Texas because of ranching’s prominence in the state.

“Obviously people all over the country … wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats and wear Western clothing. … For Texas to make claim to any part of these Western wardrobes is really an artificial designation of it as Texas’,” Vaught said. 

While most students won’t see an abundance of cowboy hats when they walk across campus, they are prominent at football games, and particularly for student organizations such as the Texas Cowboys.

Business senior Jaan Bains, Texas Cowboy’s vice president, said the Texas Cowboys wear cowboy hats and other western gear to honor Texas history. Bains said he supports the House’s legislation.

“We really respect the tradition of not only cowboys but also the tradition of the University and the tradition of the state,” Bains said. “So what we wear is — we wear a hat, we wear chaps, we wear a neckerchief, which is all symbolic and relevant of what cowboys wore years ago in Texas.”

After being denied access to interviews relating to the external investigation of UT’s admissions process, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said he is concerned the investigation may focus on President William Powers Jr.

At a special meeting last week, the UT System Board of Regents denied a request from Larson and state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, to attend or monitor all interviews conducted by Kroll Associates, Inc., the risk mitigation response firm leading the investigation that will look at outside influence over the admissions process. Martinez Fischer and Larson, both members of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, were assigned to monitor the System by the committee’s co-chairs in August, after the committee’s censure of Regent Wallace Hall. 

Larson, who also expressed his concerns to the board in a Sept. 18 letter, said he wanted to sit in on the interviews conducted by Kroll to ensure that System officials and regents were also being investigated. 

“I wanted to make sure that we had a holistic investigation, and it wasn’t targeted specifically at President Powers,” Larson said. “It’s unfortunate that President Powers has been subjected to the pettiness of the regents. I hope that when the new chancellor comes in, we can put this behind us.”

Larson said he has heard of regents asking System staff members to go to the UT admissions office and request that certain students be considered for admission into the University.

“They typically ask a staff member to go over and request a consideration that the student be admitted to UT-Austin,” Larson said. “I’ve been told by System staff that’s how they handle it.”

Records first obtained by The Texas Tribune show Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa — who commissioned the Kroll Associates investigation in June — has forwarded letters of recommendation, including those from state legislators, to Powers since he became chancellor in 2009. Cigarroa said at a board meeting in May that letters not sent through the prescribed process should no longer be considered in admissions decisions, and the regents formally approved the change in July.

The System began conducting its own inquiry into legislative influence over the University’s admissions in July 2013, after Hall brought up issues with two emails he uncovered from one of his requests for University records. In May, the System announced the inquiry found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing, but it did determine letters of recommendation sent by legislators to Powers or a dean likely influenced the admissions process.

Martinez Fischer said the board’s denial of the request makes it clear there is a level of disconnect between the UT System and the role of the legislative branch.

“I think time will certainly tell whether the UT System is following the laws that every other Texas agency is required to follow,” Martinez Fischer said. 

The UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted Monday to deny requests from two state legislators to monitor interviews relating to the external investigation of UT’s admissions process.

At a special meeting over telephone conference call, the board discussed a Sept. 8 letter from state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, announcing their intention to attend or monitor all interviews conducted by Kroll Associates, Inc., the risk mitigation response firm leading the investigation. In August, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations announced Martinez Fischer and Larson would be tasked with monitoring the System. 

At the board meeting Monday, Regent Gene Powell read a motion rejecting Martinez Fischer and Larson’s request to be involved in the interviews conducted by the firm.

“The Chancellor expressly charged that the investigation be independent, and to include one or more members of the Legislature in these interviews would compromise the independence and integrity of the interviews and of the investigation,” the motion said. 

The System conducted its own inquiry into legislative influence over the University’s admissions in July 2013, after Regent Wallace Hall brought up issues with two emails he uncovered from one of his record requests to the University. In May, the System announced the inquiry found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing but determined letters of recommendation sent by legislators to President William Powers Jr. or a dean likely influence the admissions process. 

Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced in June that the System would launch a full external investigation of University admissions because of remaining concerns about the process.

Prior to the reading of the motion during the open session of the meeting, the regents also discussed the potential ramifications of continuing to invest System money into Russia, which has recently become overwhelmed with sanctions because of international political and social issues.

“Divesting from Russia, in and of itself, would not necessarily be an overly significant event,” said Bruce Zimmerman, CEO and CIO of the University of Texas Investment Management Company. “We have about $200 million dollars invested in Russia currently. The larger concern I think would be if we did begin putting in changes to the investment policies related to political and or social issues, then there could very well be a substantial domino effect.”

The regents agreed to continue discussing the issue at future board meetings.

The UT System Board of Regents will discuss issues relating to the external investigation of UT’s admissions process by Kroll Associates, Inc., a risk mitigation response firm, at a meeting over telephone conference call Monday. 

The board will discuss a Sept. 8 letter from state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, announcing their intention to attend or monitor all interviews conducted by Kroll. Following the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations’ censure of Regent Wallace Hall on Aug. 11, the committee announced Martinez Fischer and Larson would continue to monitor the System. 

“While we know that there have been allegations of legislative influence on admissions, we believe that every member of the Legislature is responsible for his or her own actions, and our requests are made solely as part of our official duty as monitors of The UT Board of Regents, The UT System, and UT component institutions,” Martinez Fischer and Larson said in the letter. 

The System conducted its own inquiry into legislative influence over the University’s admissions in July 2013, after Hall brought up issues with two emails he uncovered from one of his record requests to the University. Releasing its report in May, the inquiry found no evidence of a structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing, but determined letters of recommendation sent by legislators to President William Powers Jr. or a dean likely influence the admissions process. 

In June, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced the System would launch a full external investigation of University admissions because of remaining concerns about the process. 

According to the contract between Kroll and the UT System, the firm will complete the investigation by Oct. 15. 

The letter from Martinez Fischer and Larson comes months after board Chairman Paul Foster asked the Texas Legislature in July not to attempt influencing board

“The point is the board has a role,” Foster said after the board’s July meeting. “It’s not political. We’re not politicians. I believe we should be left alone to do our business.”

House transparency committee co-chairs and state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, address the media after a meeting on May 12. The committee determined by a 7-1 vote that there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall's impeachment. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Updated (2:56 p.m.): In a statement distributed by attorney Allan Van Fleet, Regent Wallace Hall said his impeachment would not solve the problems he has identified at UT System institutions.

"When a Board encounters problems, coverups, and intransigence at a taxpayer-funded institution, is the proper response to hold those who are responsible accountable, or to impeach the board member?" Hall said in his statement. “If the Transparency Committee desires transparency, it should not seek ways to interfere with investigations that would expose improper conduct at the University of Texas."

Hall said his role as a regent is to protect the individuals at the various UT institutions.

"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.

Original story: In a 7-1 vote Monday, the House transparency committee voted there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall’s impeachment. The committee will meet on May 21 and 22 to try and determine the nature of specific articles of impeachment.

If the committee votes on specific articles, Hall’s case will go to the full Texas House of Representatives. If a majority of the members of the House approve of the case’s merits, it will go to the Senate, where members will convene as a court to make a final decision. If the Senate concurs with the committee’s recommendation, Hall will be the first non-elected official to be impeached in Texas history.

Rep. Carol Alvarado, committee co-chair and D-Houston, said Hall’s actions warrant extreme actions.

“Impeachment is an extraordinary tool to use in extraordinary circumstances,” Alvarado said. “I view Regent Hall’s conduct as extraordinary for an appointee.”

Rep. Dan Flynn committee co-chair and R-Canton, said he encouraged Hall to resign, and noted that if Hall were to resign before May 21, the committee would not have to convene.

The only committee member to vote against grounds of impeachment, Rep. Charles Perry R-San Antonio, said he did not feel all sides had been provided adequate chance to explain themselves.

“I think UT has lost some of its swagger,” Perry said. “I believe my opinion may have been different if I had heard testimony from all sides.”

After the committee voted, Rep. Lyle Larson R-San Antonio issued a request for Governor Rick Perry to ask for Hall’s resignation. Larson said he has asked Perry three times previously, with no response.  

"I’ve been contacted by just about every chairman of the UT system for the last four decades, all indicating that something needs to be done,” Larson said. “What this has cost us in recruiting deans, in recruiting a new chancellor, and the monetary impact…like [Martinez Fischer] said, there have been opportunities for the UT system to intervene.”

Senate of College Councils president Geetika Jerath said she felt the decision reflects the best interests of the University.

“We made our voice very clear in our letter to the governor,” Jerath said. “That’s definitely in line with what, as Senate, we have come up with in our letter, and so I’m pleased to see they agree.”

The House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has investigated Hall since July 2013 for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent. He has been accused by some members of the state legislature, including state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie,  as conducting a “witch-hunt” against Powers.

Hall was appointed to a six-year term on the Board of Regents by Gov. Rick Perry in February 2011. Before his appointment, Hall served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which works with legislators and education officials to enforce various education initiatives.

Tensions between Powers and Hall have been ongoing since 2011, when Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign after concerns arose regarding the foundation's forgivable loan program. Sager awarded himself a $500,000 loan through the program.

Though Powers said he was not aware of the forgivable loan Sager awarded himself, Hall filed open records requests which yielded roughly 40 boxes of materials and claimed he had evidence Powers was aware of the forgivable loan but chose not to take action. Powers has repeatedly denied these claims.

After state legislators accused Hall of micromanaging the University and working with other regents to remove Powers from his position, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus asked the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations in June 2013 to investigate the actions of executive appointees and recommend articles of impeachment if necessary. The committee subsequently began investigating Hall.

In August 2013, the committee hired Houston attorney Rusty Hardin as its special counsel. Based on recommendations from Hardin, the transparency committee decided in September to not allow cross-examination of witnesses by Hall’s attorneys during the upcoming hearings in the investigation.

According to testimony from Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer at UT, Hall filed open records requests for over 800,000 pages of information from UT. System officials, including outgoing UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, have said the actual number of pages is closer to 100,000.

Last November, the transparency committee heard testimony from Francie Frederick, general counsel for the Board of Regents. Frederick said Hall was mistakenly given access to private student information through his wide ranging open records requests.

In her testimony, Frederick said regents can have access to information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act if they have a valid, job-related reason to see it.

In December, Powers and Cigarroa testified on subpoena in front of the committee. Powers said Hall’s open records requests cost the University well over $1 million, but insisted he could not provide an exact number at the time. Both Cigarroa and Powers testified Hall’s actions were a distraction to UT and the System.

At the request of the committee, Philip Hilder, outside counsel to the System, submitted a report to the transparency committee in January, stating there was “no credible evidence” Hall violated any state laws regarding the release of data. In his report, Hilder said Hall requested all information protected by FERPA be redacted from the documents, but UT failed to completely remove all potentially problematic information when providing Hall with the requested documents.

Hardin prepared a report on the committee’s investigation which concluded Hall likely committed impeachable offenses. The report lists a variety of basis for Hall’s impeachment, including his handling of confidential student information, his treatment of UT-Austin and UT System officials and his large number of open records requests. The report also suggests Hall attempted to interfere with testimony.

Following the release of Hardin’s report, the Travis County district attorney's Public Integrity Unit opened an investigation into allegations that Hall violated privacy laws in distributing private student information obtained in one of his open records requests.

Representatives Drew Darby, Lyle Larson and Senator Glenn Hegar discuss solutions to Texas’ drought problem at the Cactus Cafe Monday night. According to the panelists more than 90 percent of the state is currently experiencing some level of water shortage.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

A panel of state legislators presented ideas and proposals for solving Texas’ water shortage at the Cactus Cafe on Monday. 

Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy; Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; and Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, emphasized that more than 90 percent of the state is in some level of drought right now, and the reservoir levels of West Texas are low.

The panel members agreed that focusing on funding a water plan is the first step in preventing what could become a statewide water shortage. 

“That doesn’t mean that, from a state perspective, we as taxpayers have to fund all of that,” Hegar said. “But we as state taxpayers have to put some dollars into it to begin to get partway down that road.”

Larson said the plan will prioritize regions affected most by drought by analyzing data collected over the past decade. He said there also needs to be a local effort.

“The other part is that we want to make sure that the areas that will be using this money are maximizing their conservation efforts,” Larson said. “There is a huge amount of water we can save, but the state needs to facilitate some of this.”

Darby mentioned how communities need to overcome the psychological aspect of thinking that water is plentiful, particularly in Texas. 

“If you look at the surface water in the state of Texas now, 65 percent of the capacity of our surface water was the projects that were built in response to the 1950s drought,” Larson said. “If you look at the industrial base and population now, we’re using four times more water than we were then.”

Hegar said the city administrator of his hometown of Katy distributed voluntary restriction requests on water use and it wasn’t enough to promote conservation. 

“It’s almost ironic that the time you need to conserve the most is also the biggest revenue generator,” Hegar said.

Darby said certain restrictions on watering communities should be enforced. 

“We need to be OK with our lawns being something less than green,” Darby said. “The new green is brown. That’s really the vernacular we could all use. Brown is cool.”

A pair of bills filed in the Texas House of Representatives seeks to strip undocumented students of eligibility for in-state tuition.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, and state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, have filed separate bills that would amend the qualifications for in-state tuition to exclude undocumented students. Since 2001, undocumented immigrants have qualified for in-state tuition if they received a high school diploma in Texas, lived in the state for at least three years upon high school graduation and signed an affidavit stating their intention to apply for permanent residence when eligible.

Larson’s bill would amend the current law to explicitly exclude “a person who is not authorized by federal law to be present in the United States” from state resident status.

Unlike Larson’s bill, Zedler’s does not explicitly exclude undocumented immigrants from in-state tuition, but strikes part of the current language that gives them the opportunity to qualify as state residents. Zedler did not immediately respond to phone requests for comments.

Larson said the issue at hand is one of fairness to students who are here legally.

“For the state to impose a mandate that you have to offer in-state tuition, I don’t think that’s fair to the folks going through the process legitimately from other countries and states that are trying to get into these universities and paying tuition rates three times higher than someone who is here illegally,” Larson said.

In 2012, tuition at UT for state residents was $9,792 compared to $33,060 for out-of-state students. According to PolitiFact Texas, 16,476 undocumented college students in Texas received in-state tuition in 2010 through the pathway outlined in the current law. Four percent of those students attended UT (612).

Denise Gilman, clinical law professor and co-director of the law school’s immigration clinic, said she disagrees with Larson’s assessment of the fairness of his proposed bill.

“To me the fairness question really is one of treating students who have grown up here their entire lives fairly,” Gilman said. “It seems fundamentally unfair to exclude promising students from the opportunity of a higher education at a state institution because of their immigration status rather than any concerns of their ties to the community or willingness to contribute back to this community.”

Larson said his objection is not to undocumented students attending college in Texas but to the financial advantage they receive by qualifying as state residents.

“There’s no prohibition for allowing folks to apply if they’re here undocumented, but I don’t think we need to give them the same rate as the kids that are here legally and have in-state residence requirements met,” Larson said.

Javier Huamani, mechanical engineering senior and historian for University Leadership Initiative, said most undocumented students rely on in-state tuition eligibility to attend college. ULI is a student group that advocates policies and programs that would benefit the undocumented community.

“If in-state tuition were repealed, the hopes and dreams of many of these students would be crushed and those who try to pay would be facing the danger of debt,” Huamani said.

In the 2011 legislative session, several similar bills were filed, but none made it out of the committee process.

Printed on Thursday, November 29, 2012 as: In-state tuition challenged for undocumented Texas students