We now know that a number of politicians, including Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison abused the admissions system at The University of Texas at Austin to secure the admission of under-qualified students connected to donors and family friends. But when the Dallas Morning News broke the story, those who were involved went back to their tried and trusted “everybody does it” defense.
Those denials are dishonest. We know too much about what actually happened.
Thanks to the excellent reporting of the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org, we know that the admissions scandal at the University of Texas is much worse than previously imagined. Watchdog reconstructed a database used by Kroll Associates to produce their damning report that led to the resignation of UT President Bill Powers.
That database reveals, between 2009 and 2014, at least 764 applicants initially denied admission to the University of Texas were later admitted due to Powers’ interference with the admissions office. More than 200 of those applicants were admitted after their applications were cancelled. That far exceeds the 73 under-qualified applicants who are frequently spoken of by the major media.
Watchdog.org spoke with several experts on college admissions and got their reactions:
“The reach of this scandal is breathtaking,” said Maribeth Vander Weele, one of the investigators in a similar admissions scandal at the University of Illinois. “The collapse of ethics in two major institutions – the Law School and the Legislature – will be felt for years to come.”
Jim Miller, a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, called Texas’ system “entirely inappropriate.” The Texas situation, he said, “erodes public confidence in a system that has incredible integrity, generally speaking. All it takes is a few of these situations to lead people to think that’s how it works.”
Some Powers partisans have been arguing just that: everybody does it.
“When I got your email, I was at a conference, and I grabbed five of my friends who’ve worked at flagship public schools,” Miller said. “And in all five of those cases, they said they had not had that experience where there was the sort of organized political pressure system.”
He’d never met anyone else in the business who had, either, Miller added.
The difference between the 764 applicants reported by Watchdog.org and 73 Kroll results is simple to explain. The Kroll study looked at whether there was a “plausible” case for admission for those applicants who were politically connected. But admissions offices, with their focus on engaging in race-based affirmative action without using specific quotas or points systems, specialize in the business of admitting students for whom a “plausible” case can be made.
In the case of UT’s law school, the test scores associated with the files of specially admitted students are shocking. A separate Watchdog.org study of law school admissions revealed the admission of applicants with scores well below 150 on the LSAT, generally considered the lowest score a person can make and still gain admission to even a bottom-tier law school, not a prestigious institution like UT.
“It’s impossible to say now exactly how many underqualified students were admitted, as UT redacted the tallies. We can say that in 2004, UT Law admitted at least one person with each of the following scores: 137, 140, 141, 144, 147, 148 and 149.
In 2005, UT Law admitted at least one person with each of the following scores: 137, 140, 141, 143, 144, 147, 148 and 149.
In 2006, the low scores recorded were 137, 141, 143, 146, 147, 148 and 149.”
The evidence shows that Powers and others closely connected to UT regularly lied about the impact influential recommendations had on admissions, even to the extent that they lied to the US Supreme Court. They now choose to pretend that what they were doing was perfectly acceptable. But if it was so acceptable, why lie about it for so long?
Perhaps their record of deceit stems from the fact that they knew their practices were unacceptable to both state law and to the electorate. When facts were coming to light about House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts pulling strings behind the scenes he announced his “retirement” rather than face voters again.
Other lawmakers, fearing their own malfeasance would be exposed to the light of day, engaged in a witch-hunt against UT Regent Wallace Hall, seeking to impeach him for asking too many questions. Meanwhile the UT administration, led by Chancellor William McRaven, has stonewalled Hall and his pursuit of more information concerning the corrupt practice, defying even a ruling from Attorney General Ken Paxton.
To borrow from Shakespeare, “Methinks the Chancellor doth protest too much.”
The actions of those directly involved in the UT scandal prove that they have known all along that their actions were neither mainstream or tolerable.