Is This the Most Dangerous Man in Texas?

Wallace Hall has been a one-man wrecking crew in his attempt to bring down the president of the University of Texas at Austin. Is he an out-of-control regent who deserves to be impeached? Is he a selfless hero who is interested only in the truth? As an unprecedented battle of ego, money, and power engulfs the Capitol, the one thing that is certain is that Hall won’t back down.
Hall, photographed on the front porch of his home with his dog, Jessie, on June 12, 2014.
Photograph by Darren Braun

Editors’ note: In late July, after this feature story on Regent Wallace went to press, William Powers, the president of the University of Texas at Austin, submitted his letter of resignation, effective next year. On Monday, August 11, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations approved a motion to admonish and censure University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office.” Hall issued a statement declaring that the committee’s findings “are based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentations.” Read the full 26-page report the committee released here.

On a bright morning in mid-May, Wallace Hall greeted me with a carefree grin at his North Dallas office. “The Legislature is getting ready to impeach you and you’re grinning?” I asked.

“You think I’d be upset because some politicians want me gone?” Hall replied, offering me coffee in a Styrofoam cup. “You’re about to go down in Texas history,” I said, as Hall sat on a couch beneath a white board that was covered with stick figures his children had drawn years earlier. He was wearing a button-down shirt with khaki pants, and he propped his field boots on a coffee table stacked with books on subjects ranging from African wildlife to synthetic biology. He gave me a shrug. “Seriously, this is a big deal,” I said, trying again.

“A big deal?” Hall finally said. “I’m supposed to be anxious because I’m asking tough questions? Because I’m doing the right thing?”

Only two people in the state’s history have been impeached and removed from office: Governor James “Pa” Ferguson, in 1917, who had been indicted for embezzlement, and Judge O. P. Carrillo, in 1976, who had been indicted for tax fraud. Hall, a wealthy, blue-eyed, 52-year-old entrepreneur and investor, could very well be the third.

The difference is that Hall is not an elected official and he hasn’t been charged with a crime. In 2011 Governor Rick Perry appointed him to the University of Texas System Board of Regents, which oversees nine universities, including the flagship University of Texas at Austin, and six health institutions. About a year into his tenure, Hall began telling other regents that William Powers, UT-Austin’s president, had not been honest with them about his knowledge of a secret program that provided “forgivable loans” to the faculty at the UT School of Law, where Powers had previously served as dean. A few months later, he alleged Powers had knowingly and improperly counted nonmonetary gifts as part of the total amount of money raised in the university’s endowment campaign. And in 2013, in his most damning charge, Hall asserted that Powers had been operating a program out of his office in which he admitted the children of prominent legislators and their benefactors

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