When the University of Texas defended itself in the Fisher lawsuit, they provided a list of criteria considered for admission. Not surprisingly, they failed to list what some say almost guarantees admission: a relationship to a powerful politician or big donor.

More and more people are whispering about allegations that UT has been giving out special admissions favors in return for relationships with big donors and politicians. Is the legislature looking at that? No. Instead, a House committee “co­chaired” by Republican Dan Flynn and Democrat Carol Alvarado are instead considering impeachment charges against UT Regent Wallace Hall because he was asking too many questions about possible financial malfeasance. For his trouble, Hall is under assault by the politicians, donors, and administrators afraid of what he might uncover.

Lots of people lost their jobs in the University of Illinois “Clout Scandal,” a systematic plot that is echoed by the current lingering questions at my beloved alma mater. As a graduate of the University of Texas, I am troubled that a few wealthy donors and a couple unscrupulous politicians appear to be silencing an inquiry. We shouldn’t allow Austin to operate like Chicago.

In Illinois, the Chicago Tribune uncovered an organized program of universities granting special admissions favors to highly-connected students at the request of politicians. Recommended students were classified as “Category I” applicants and received a red stripe on their applications. The scandal ultimately resulted in the resignation of the University of Illinois President, Chancellor, and seven of nine members of the Board of Trustees. The investigation implicated the Governor of Illinois, along with the Senate President, House Speaker and an assortment of other politicians.

While the people seeking to stop Regent Hall from uncovering the truth here in Texas might want us to believe they are “protecting” UT, what they are really doing is systematically undervaluing the degrees of everyone who is—and wants to be—a Longhorn. They are protecting themselves and what could well be a patronage scheme of historic proportions.

We already know, for instance, that UT President Bill Powers oversaw an unreported and unseemly payola program through the University of Texas Law School Foundation. The shady dealings there are only lightly known, and the media has done their best to ignore even that. However, we know millions of dollars in “forgivable loans” were paid out to professors and others with no accountability or transparency.

Of course, it was Bill Powers who wrote the original report whitewashing Ken Lay and the Board’s involvement in the Enron scandal while under scrutiny for his conflicts of interest. So, accountability might be a foreign concept for him, anyway.

My UT degree is declining in value as the Legislature covers for Powers. A recent study found that a UT degree comes in third place amongst Texas colleges in a ranking of “return on investment.” Third. That puts UT after not only Rice University but also Texas A&M.

Yet a “transparency” committee of the Texas House is investigating a member of the UT Board of Regents because he has been doing his job and asking questions about operations at the flagship university of the State of Texas!?

Well, I’m glad someone is. There are apparently no shortage of questions which should be asked.

That Bill Powers was recently honored by the Texas Legislature is a testament to the power of misinformation and misdirection. They had enough time to draft congratulatory resolutions stroking his ego and snap a few pictures with him, but didn’t have any bandwidth to look into why a degree from UT–Austin now has less ROI than one from Texas A&M.

Go figure.

I want a stronger UT … a better UT … the UT I was sold on. Not the UT that is being corrupted and treated like the playground of a precious few. If big donors and politicians can get unqualified kids into UT-Austin, taking up seats and pushing the truly qualified to other schools or out-of-state, that has to stop immediately.

We shouldn’t be satisfied with being third-fiddle to A&M and Rice, but the protect-Bill-Powers-at-all-costs cult is apparently satisfied with it as long as it means their kids get an easy ride.

It’s said of UT that “what starts here changes the world.” Well, it appears that it is time for big changes at UT.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.