Indistinguishable from the governmental entity at the center of a growing clout-abuse scandal, the UT Law School Foundation is taking a curious tone of defensiveness one would not expect from lawyers: ‘We didn’t do anything wrong and we won’t do it again.’
Two weeks ago, the foundation’s public relations team began circulating what was allegedly an open-letter to me and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. I use “allegedly” because the UT Law School Foundation didn’t actually get me a copy until three days AFTER the media started calling us about it.
Media entities around the nation have for months been reporting on the mounds of evidence that a small band of liberal Texas legislators (from both parties) have used their influence to get otherwise under-qualified kids admitted into the University of Texas and its law school. Add to that a financial malfeasance scandal involving gifts to UT being misreported so as to game national ratings systems.
Meanwhile, it has been well documented that the former dean of the UT Law School, Larry Sager, was forced to resign over a payola scandal involving undocumented payments and forgivable loans made to favored staff members out of the UT Law School Foundation coffers.
As was reported by the Texas Tribune, the foundation “program was terminated” after a UT investigation found it was “not appropriate.” The law foundation’s PR machine defends the payouts as a common practice. (Kind of like breaking out a back window is “common practice” among burglars, I guess.)
Just because all the other law schools are jumping off of a cliff, does that mean Texans want ours to do it also?
Giving the UT Law School Foundation a more professional treatment, I mailed a letter to them earlier today via certified mail responding to their PR stunt. (A PDF of my letter and a redacted copy of my certified mail receipt can be downloaded here.)
Bottom-line: they want us to retract our description of their role in the payola scheme. So that we can consider their request, they now just need to make available for our review all the copies of all the documents they provided in the various investigations (current and past). That will allow us to make an independent, goodwill determination of their role and our description of it.
Here is the text of my reply:
An Open Response To The UT Law School Foundation.
June 30, 2014
John H. Massey
Robin C. Gibbs
University of Texas Law School Foundation
727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, Texas, 78705
Dear Mr. Massey and Mr. Gibbs,
Thank you for your letter expressing your concerns about our framing of the issues of financial malfeasance and corruption within the leadership of the University of Texas. I am sure you will agree that a small group of legislators and University officials leading the charge to impeach a regent for fulfilling his constitutional obligations is a stain on the reputation of all Texans.
Your letter was sent to the media three full days before it arrived at my office. For as bad as the USPS can be, I think we both agree it is more likely that your PR firm simply forgot to mail the letter. In fact, the copy of the letter that I did finally receive was not an original letter, but was instead a color print-out of the PDF to which I had already been referred by members of the media and did not appear to contain your original signatures.
I recognize that your alleged concerns surround the payola scandal between your entity and University of Texas Law School employees – which you address, in so many words, as “we didn’t do anything wrong and promise not to do it again.”
Indeed, your letter reinforces the concerns many have about the “foundation” when you state that – ultimately – the expenditure decisions of the allegedly independent foundation were seemingly being directed by the dean of the UT Law School.
I know, I know, “everyone else does this” is your reply. And I guess it’d be okay if everyone else was letting legislators use their clout to get under-qualified students into the law school, who then graduate but have record-low bar passage rates…
Obviously you are quite concerned about your reputation, given that a previous law school dean was forced to resign his position over the scandal.
The UT System found the payout program to be “not appropriate” and – according to the Texas Tribune – it was terminated.
You asked for a correction/retraction.
In order for us to do so, you will need to make available all the documents and records provided by your organization to the Office of the Attorney General in their investigation, as well as to the University of Texas System and the Texas House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations in their investigations. These documents should be made immediately available to my attorney and financial investigator, so that we can verify your claim that no illegal activity occurred.
We will also need to see all records of meetings, phone calls, and donations as well as correspondence, involving State Rep. Jim Pitts, State Rep. Ferdinand Frank “Trey Martinez” Fischer, and State Sen. Judith Zaffirni.
(As you know, Mr. Pitts and Mrs. Zaffirini’s children were admitted to UT Law under questionable circumstances and both took at least three times to pass the state bar following graduation.)
In addition we request any records relating to conditions placed on donations received by the Foundation, as well as all records of correspondence between the Foundation and the Dean of the University of Texas School of Law related to “administrative requests” for disbursement of funds from the Foundation.
Lastly, we would like to see all records and documents in your possession related to the forced resignation of Larry Sager.
If you are interested in a retraction or clarification, providing these documents will obviously provide the information necessary for us to take any such action.
I look forward to my team having a chance to review the documents so that we can make an immediate determination of the need to issue a retraction or clarification.
Michael Quinn Sullivan
President & CEO