Gene Powell’s Letter to Jim Pitts
The Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents writes to the powerful state representative to defend the actions of Regent Wallace Hall and states that Pitts’s opinion of Hall “may have been intentionally mischaracterized.”
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On the same day that a House committee met to consider how to move forward with potential articles of impeachment against UT System Board of Regent Wallace Hall, the chairman of the board fired off a hand-delivered letter to the Republican representative who has been most vocal in pursuing that course of action.
In a letter obtained by Texas Monthly dated July 15, 2013, Chairman Wm. Eugene “Gene” Powell wrote to Jim Pitts, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, to defend the embattled Hall. Referring to an editorial that Pitts had published in the Austin American-Statesman on July 7 titled “Regent Abused Transparency,” Powell writes, “To the extent the article and your opinion about Regent Hall’s service to U.T. System are based upon misinformation provided by anyone associated with The University of Texas System or a University of Texas institution, I apologize and feel I must take this opportunity to provide you with the facts.”
Powell also writes, “In addition to the short summary below, I am available at any time to talk with you, in person or by phone.” Powell then praises Hall’s work on the board in areas ranging from his understanding of the structure and operations of the UT System and his efforts to help the system compete nationally, particularly in areas related to blended and online learning. Powell praises Hall’s “excellent service to the board in terms of time and energy” and goes on to say that “I appreciate his Board service and his dedication and hard work designed to fulfill his fiduciary obligations.”
In response to allegations that Hall has abused his authority to request documents from UT campuses—and has at times revealed sensitive or confidential information—Powell writes, “I am aware of no instance of Regent Hall inappropriately sharing information that is confidential by law with others outside U.T. System and encourage you to identify any specific concerns you have in this area.”
In reference to the ongoing investigation of the UT-Austin School of Law and the UT Law School Foundation, Powell reveals a previously unseen anonymous letter that Hall had discovered in February of this year from “several female faculty members at the school of law” that is dated March 17, 2011. In the letter, the writers ask Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa “to investigate two hidden salary systems that our deans has used during the last five years to hide salary raises and to discriminate against women and minorities in our institution.”
According to a source familiar with the situation, the chancellor’s office forwarded the letter to then-general counsel Barry Burgdorf. Though Law School dean Larry Sagar was forced to step down in December 2011 after the revelations of his management of a loan forgiveness program for law school faculty, Powell states that this letter had not been previously disclosed to the Board, did not appear in any Texas Public Information Act requests, and was not part of the original investigation of the UT Law School Foundation by Burgdorf, which was published in October 2012 and has since been set aside by the regents (Burgdorf himself has also resigned). As a result, the discovery of that letter “was a key factor in the Board’s action to seek an investigation outside of the U.T. System.” That investigation, which is widely seen to be directed at UT president William Powers’s role in the forgivable loan program, is now in the hands of the state attorney general’s office.
You can read both letters, along with additional correspondence that Powell included in his materials to Pitts, below.