Board chairman

UT System Regent Wallace Hall prepares to leave after a UT System Board of Regents meeting on April 29.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

In a major step away from the private, behind-the-scenes disagreements among the members of the UT System Board of Regents, board Chairman Paul Foster publicly asked Regent Wallace Hall to resign at the board's meeting Thursday.

Foster addressed Hall directly at the board meeting and said, even though Hall has not violated any board rules or policies, his resignation would be the best thing for the System.

“I do not believe you have violated any current board rules or policy and I do not think a vote on your service is appropriate,” Foster said. “I urge you to take a selfless step to benefit the UT System and resign from the board. … I believe this step would be the most beneficial action you could take at this time.”

The statement comes three days after the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations determined there are grounds for Hall’s impeachment. The committee had been investigating Hall since June 2013  for potentially overstepping his bounds as a regent. The committee is scheduled to meet on May 21 and 22 to 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 Texas 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.

At the transparency committee meeting on Monday, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, called on the regents to issue a vote of no confidence in Hall.

Despite several regents offering statements on Hall, Foster opted not to take a vote of no confidence Thursday. Hall left the meeting without making any statements.

Regent Jeffrey Hildebrand, who was appointed to the board in February 2013, also called for Hall’s resignation at Thursday’s meeting and said it was time for the board to focus on other matters.

“I think the time has come to move beyond the controversy,” Hildebrand said. “It’s been a controversy that, for far too long, has consumed too much of the board’s resources. … We must move past this controversy and get to the business at hand of moving this System forward that is so vital to the state of Texas."

Foster also addressed the various leaks of communications from executive session meetings that have occurred this past year. In August 2013, Regent Alex Cranberg recorded an executive session meeting and took detailed notes, which were released to the press. Notes that Hall took during an executive session meeting were also released.

“Trust is something that is earned and once violated is very difficult for it to be regained,” Foster said.

Cranberg — along with Gene Powell, regent and vice chairman of the board — defended Hall at Thursday's meeting and said Hall only pursued matters of extreme importance to the System and its institutions.

“We’re all here to advance the best interests of the University of Texas,” Cranberg said. “I don’t think there is any doubt around this table of the commitment and good will of all of the regents. I feel sometimes that there’s been a lot of mischaracterization, exaggeration and incorrect information.”

Foster said he has a set of recommendations he wants to implement on the board in order to combat some of the problems the board has encountered this year, including the appropriate role of a regent and procedures for maintaining the confidentiality of private board discussions. Foster said he will send his recommendations to the regents within the next few weeks so they will have time to review them before taking a vote.

The discussion came after Hall asked the regents to reopen its investigation into the nonprofit UT Law School Foundation, and its connection to UT President William Powers Jr. Hall’s request was voted down 5-3. The UT System conducted a review of the foundation in November 2012, which some regents — including Hall — were not satisfied with because they felt it was not critical enough. The regents then gave the case to the Texas Attorney General’s office to conduct another review.

At Thursday’s meeting, Hall said the attorney general’s office had yet to open its investigation. Foster said the attorney general’s office was waiting on a letter from Hall, but Hall claimed he had given the office all the information he had.

Powers, who was at the meeting, said UT and the System should be looking forward.

“I very much appreciate the chairman’s comments,” Powers said. “It’s a time to move forward and for us to focus on the things the System and the campuses need to do.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio and member of the committee investigating Hall, praised Foster for requesting Hall’s resignation in a statement released after the board meeting.

“The Board’s actions confirm the serious problems that I’ve observed during the Transparency Committee’s investigation and I thank the Board for taking seriously my call for the System to solve this problem themselves,” Martinez Fischer said in the statement. “It is my sincere hope that Regent Hall [will] do the right thing.”

This article has been updated since its original publication. The full name of the committee investigating Hall is the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

In the middle of ongoing tensions between the UT System Board of Regents, the Texas Legislature and UT President William Powers Jr., board Chairman Gene Powell has asked the Texas Attorney General’s office if the System is allowed to withhold information from legislators.

The request comes only weeks after regents levelled claims of a “lack of transparency” against Powers regarding a controversy surrounding the UT Law School Foundation.

Two days after the letter to the attorney general was filed, four regents — Steve Hicks, Robert Stillwell, James Dannenbaum and Printice Gary — submitted a written request to hold a meeting of the full board to discuss whether or not information should be withheld from legislators.

The four regents also requested the board discuss the possibility of authorizing the attorney general’s office to conduct a review of the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School foundation. Last month, in a 4-3 vote at which Powell was absent, the Board decided to conduct a new external review, which has been estimated to cost roughly $500,000. 

Powell’s request to withhold information has sparked sharp criticism from lawmakers, including state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who said in a statement she had heard Powell’s behavior compared to that of former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

“My only conclusion is that [the Regents] have something to hide,” Zaffirini said Friday night in the statement.

In a letter to state Attorney General Greg Abbott, Powell asked if the System could legally withhold certain information from the Legislature, or if there was a specific time frame in which a governmental body must respond to an open records request.

According to the Texas Public Information Act, governing bodies must handle all requests from private citizens in good faith and produce requested information “promptly.” If this cannot be done in 10 days, the governmental body must recognize this in writing and set a date and hour when the records will be available. Alternatively, if there is a desire to withhold information, the governing body has 10 days to write to the attorney general asking for a decision.

The UT System has, by its own count, received four requests for information from legislators, including one request by Zaffirini made as a private citizen. In this request, Zaffirini asked for any and all data relating to a number of categories, including “President Powers,” “Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr.” and “Regent Alex M. Cranberg,” among others.

Zaffirini said she made her request as a private citizen because the System has no time limit on responses for legislative requests. Her request as a private citizen is likely what prompted the 10-day clock to start, spurring Powell to request withholding certain documents.

In his letter to Abbott, Powell said the information requests might be harmful to the System’s ability to do its job.

“These requests have proved potentially damaging to the ability of the System’s governing board to fulfill properly its statutory and fiduciary duties,” Powell said in the letter.

Zaffirini called the move outrageous.

“While the specific regents and personnel involved in this response process have employed countless delay tactics to date, this one is not only the most innovative, but also the most outrageous,” Zaffirini said in the statement. “Perhaps they do not understand the difference between ‘inconvenient’ and ‘confidential.’”

Abbott has not yet ruled on whether or not the requested information will be granted to Zaffirini or to any of the other legislators.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said Powell informed the board’s three vice chairmen — Regents Paul Foster, Hicks and Dannenbaum — of his decision to write to the attorney general.

Though Powell has requested to withhold information from legislators, the System has not been shy about requesting its own information from UT, including recently criticizing Powers for not being transparent enough.

In February, the University supplied more than 40 boxes of records to Regent Wallace Hall Jr., who had requested all open records correspondence and responses for a 23-month period stretching from January 2011 to November 2012. The University had responded to roughly 2,500 requests in that time period.

Hall is currently in the process of filing new information about his own legal history with the governor’s office after it was discovered last week he failed to disclose his involvement in at least six state and federal lawsuits on his original application for the Regent position.

Capping off a week of drama between the Texas Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents, board chairman Gene Powell released a statement saying Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s remarks that the regents are allegedly micromanaging UT “surely had to be the result of misinformation and were either incorrect or inaccurate.”

“I know my fellow regents; they are outstanding individuals and I stand behind them fully,” Powell said.

On Monday, the Legislature passed three resolutions honoring UT President William Powers Jr. in response to a Feb. 13 regents meeting during which regents intensely questioned him on a number of topics.

During a ceremony on the Senate floor, Dewhurst offered an emotional defense of Powers and said he received numerous complaints that the regents were subverting Powers’ authority, disrupting the System’s governance structure and engaging in “character assassination” against him.

Powell said he and Dewhurst met several times over the past few days to address Dewhurst’s concerns.

“I join him in the desire to move forward constructively on these issues, and we have agreed to keep in close contact in the days and weeks to come,” Powell said in the Friday statement.

Powell’s statement comes two days after Dewhurst announced that he and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus will relaunch a joint oversight committee formed in 2011 to examine regents’ proper governance role over individual institutions.

Dewhurst said Wednesday that the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency will be made up of the higher education committees from both houses and additional members to examine regents’ proper governance role in an institution.

Wednesday afternoon, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and Senate Higher Education Committee chairman, filed a bill that would limit university boards of regents’ authority over the affairs of individual universities within a system.

Seliger’s bill would amend state law to say that all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards of those university systems fall under the authority of the individual institutions of that system. Nine other senators co-authored the bill, including four members of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Two of the bill’s co-authors, state Sens. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin, sit on the Senate Committee on Nominations, which must confirm Gov. Rick Perry’s appointments to the board of regents. Thursday, Perry appointed Ernest Aliseda of McAllen and Jeff Hildebrand, a UT alumnus from Houston, to six-year terms on the board. He also reappointed board vice chairman Paul Foster.

Published on February 25, 2013 as "Chairman denies regent misconduct".