Whistleblowing University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall took his fight for transparency to the Texas Supreme Court this week where his attorneys argued for his right to access university records.
Shortly after Hall was appointed by Gov. Perry to the Board of Regents in February 2011, he uncovered evidence of a pay-for-play scandal in admissions at the University of Texas at Austin and its law school. The evidence included favoritism for politically connected but under-qualified students.
Hall has been trying to further investigate the issue, much to the chagrin of Chancellor William McRaven and UT administrators, who have thus far only provided incomplete information in response to Hall’s information requests. Hall was forced to sue McRaven in his official capacity for refusing to give him unredacted documents.
McRaven has redacted personally identifiable information from the documents. That information, such as the names of students admitted and the politicians recommending them, is necessary in order to investigate impropriety in admissions. Former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, the attorney for McRaven, offered an emotion-laced argument about students’ privacy, claiming the information is protected under federal law.
However, those federal laws do allow university officials to view student information if they have an “educational purpose.” Hall’s attorneys have argued that he, as a member of the university system’s governing board, must have access to the institution’s records in order to effectively govern.
“The nature of the job, of governing, carries with it a right and a duty to be informed on the issues,” argued Joseph Knight, Hall’s attorney. “You could not exercise that duty, you couldn’t discharge that responsibility without a right to information.”
Jefferson responded, arguing that regents are not entitled to other student information.
“Is a Regent also entitled to know that the parents of an applicant are in the United States illegally?,” Jefferson argued. “Should a Regent be privy to the fact that an applicant was sexually abused as a child? Why must a Regent know that a student applicant has struggled with dyslexia, cancer, or bipolar disorder?”
Justice Jeff Boyd didn’t seem to buy Jefferson’s argument.
“I assume Mr. Jefferson that you’ve read the entire record of this case, every page, in preparation for this argument. Ninety percent of what you’ve read to prepare for today’s argument ended up being irrelevant to what you’ve needed to know to make this argument. But in order to know that you were fully understanding the issues, you had to read everything to make sure you were missing nothing.”
Boyd compared Jefferson’s preparation to the job of a regent, like Hall.
“Why isn’t a Regent’s right to review student records the same? Doesn’t he have to be able to look at everything to know that he is missing nothing?,” asked Justice Boyd.
Jefferson responded by asserting that students’ rights to privacy would be violated by providing the unredacted records.
Throughout the whole saga Hall has repeatedly been vindicated, including a damning report by an independent auditor which found overwhelming evidence of corruption in admissions.
Ironically, in bemoaning the scope of Hall’s request, McRaven’s attorney admitted yesterday that Hall’s allegations have been substantiated: “He has the transcripts, he has witness notes, emails, policies, statistics, proposed witness questions. These documents established, as UT’s own internal review had already shown, a strong appearance that external letters were providing undue influence on admissions.”
Which is precisely why the UT administration has fought so hard against him to withhold the names of the legislators who were involved in that corruption.