Will ‘Eyes Of Texas’ Focus On Clout Scandal?

While a Texas House kangaroo committee investigates the whistle-blower, it appears House and Senate members who apparently used their clout to get unqualified students into the state’s “first class” university are protected.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus have it in their power to begin immediate investigations into revelations that unnamed House and Senate members have abused the power and influence of their offices. Yet so far both have remained silent.


Of course, a select committee in the House is “investigating” problems at the University of Texas… Well, they are investigating impeachment charges against the university regent who has uncovered the problems – including exposing legislative clout abuse.

But don’t expect that committee to spend any time or energy investigating corruption by members of the legislature.

Attorney’s for UT Regent Wallace Hall sent a letter to the committee’s co-chairs, spelling out the corruptions he was uncovering as part of “looking for the facts about how the [UT Law School] Foundation’s secret forgivable loan program operated, who knew about it, and who allowed it to remain undisclosed.”

The chairman of the UT Board of Regents, Gene Powell, deserves credit for coming to Mr. Hall’s defense this summer. Clearly he understands from recent scandals (such as Penn State and the University of Illinois) that universities need oversight and careful governance. He seems to be in the minority in Austin.

The impetus behind the legislative witch-hunt impeachment proceedings are Mr. Hall’s requests for records. UT now says they will deny Mr. Hall – a regent constitutionally charged with the governance of the institution – access to any more information or records. Apparently they don’t like what he was finding.

But think about this: Mr. Hall is a UT regent, a constitutional officer over seeing UT, and yet the UT bureaucracy now refuses to give him access to documents he is legally allowed to receive.


Chancellor Cigarroa
What has legislators and bureaucrats so eager to bury Mr. Hall? From his attorneys’ letter:

Regent Hall found correspondence on behalf of a Representative inquiring about the admission of the Member’s adult [child] to a UT Austin graduate school. Although the dean had previously stated the applicant did not meet the school’s standards and would need to either retake the graduate admission exam or attend another graduate school first… the [child] was in fact admitted without retaking the test or attending another school.

Regent Hall found other correspondence in which a Senator sought special consideration for an applicant who had been rejected… In communication, the Senator seeking special treatment reminded the UT Austin official of recent legislative action taken to benefit The University… the rejected applicant was subsequently admitted to UT Austin.

The Texas Tribune reported that House committee co-chair Dan Flynn (R-Van) responded to the letter, saying his committee won’t allow embattled whistleblower  Hall to ask any questions of the university staff, bureaucrats, sycophants or – most especially – legislators involved in the corruption he uncovered.

“If there was a trial, that might be their procedure, but for us, we’re an investigative committee. We’re doing the investigating, not someone else,” Mr. Flynn reportedly said.

Hopefully Mr. Flynn’s committee will investigate the right things. So far, the track record isn’t encouraging. Despite volumes of smoke, there haven’t been any real investigations to date.

One has to wonder why the university system’s chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa, hasn’t taken more steps to clean up the problems (like the law school scandal).


Dan Branch wants to be Texas' chief law enforcement officer, but as House higher ed chairman he isn't investigating university corruption.
Likewise, State Rep. Dan Branch (R-Highland Park), a close ally of Speaker Joe Straus, who has spent six years chairing the House Higher Education Committee. He and his committee haven’t lifted a finger to investigate any of this.

One has to wonder what kind of investigations he will conduct should he be successful in his plans to be Texas’ next attorney general.

State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Mr. Dewhurst’s higher education committee chairman in the Senate, has shown a similar lack of investigative interest — prefering instead to shill for the bureaucracy from his senatorial perch.

For too long the eyes of Texas have looked the other way. It’s time for bright lights to be shined where some legislators clearly don’t want Texans looking.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael is president and CEO of Empower Texans, and its premier project, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capital Hill staffer, think tank vice president and an Eagle Scout, Sullivan is married with three children. He divides his time between the Metroplex, the rest of Texas, and Austin.

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