The Wallace Hall Interview

In an exclusive conversation with Texas Monthly, the controversial UT regent opens up about the board, the Legislature, and the future of UT-Austin president Bill Powers.
Mon April 15, 2013 7:00 am
Bob Daemmrich

UPDATE: On Tuesday, April 16, the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education responded to comments Regent Wallace Hall made about the group in this interview. We have posted the letter in its entirety below the interview.

Texas Monthly: Let’s start with the events of Thursday morning, when the UT System Board of Regents voted unanimously to do two things: turn over all materials requested by the Legislature and to ask the attorney general to conduct the investigation of the Law School Foundation at the University of Texas at Austin, which had been recommended by members of the Legislature. What is the significance of those votes as it relates to the direction of the board?

Wallace Hall: To me, the board’s direction has not really changed. We’re still looking to do our job and to do it fully. In regard to the legislative request and the Texas Public Information Act request, it has been our desire to be forthcoming and to be transparent. The requests are for copious amounts of information, and we wanted to comply fully. It was always our intent to provide the documentation that we are required to provide. There have been concerns on my part—I am speaking for myself and not for the board—that we make sure to handle the information in a sensitive way. The Legislature doesn’t fully understand what we’re about to give them. We have issues—HIPAA, FERPA—that are ancillary to what I think they want to see, and we need to make sure that we treat that information according. There is certainly information in there that could chill the investigation if it is widely disseminated.

In regard to the decision to ask the attorney general to take over the investigation, this has gone on longer than any of us would have liked. All of us want it resolved, frankly. We have confidence that the attorney general will do a great job. I don’t know how long it will take, but I hope it’s as quick as the external investigation was going to be.

TM: Do you see any substantive difference between an external investigation and an investigation by the Attorney General’s office? At the regents meeting on March 20, there was a contentious 4-3 to set aside the original report, conducted by UT System general counsel Barry Burgdorf, and pursue an outside review. Vice Chairman Steven Hicks was vocal about not authorizing another review, saying that it was akin to “beating a dead horse.” He also said that he felt that the intention of investigation was to place the blame at the feet of President Bill Powers.

Hall: I would like to see that when we have an investigation, that we handle it in a similar way for all of our institutions. We don’t want to be wrongly or rightly accused of doing something one way for a school and another way for another school. Some people will say it means something that the attorney general is involved instead of an investigative firm from New York, and there are optics to that.

I would disagree obviously with Steve on this issue because we all don’t have the same level of information. There was a fair amount of press about the split vote, but it doesn’t concern me to have a split vote. It actually concerned me more when I came on the board and learned there hadn’t been a no vote in ten years. I’d be more concerned that the regents didn’t challenge each other.

TM: The conventional wisdom going into Thursday’s meeting was that if the board voted unanimously on both of these issues, it was a sign that there was an effort to smooth over relations with the Legislature. Is that an accurate reading?

Hall: On Wednesday I spent the day over at the Legislature meeting with a number of members, which was very productive. They learned things from us, and I certainly learned things from them. Unquestionably, we would like to smooth things over with the Legislature, because it’s not productive for the UT System or for their efforts to govern. We have great respect for what they do, and we’re trying to find a path through these choppy waters. We share the same goal.

TM: Of course, lawmakers may not see it that way. The volume from the Capitol has steadily increased during the session, and it has been directed at the board in general and at you specifically.

Hall: I think there has been confusion by some members on what our role is. I don’t believe that we have any confusion about what our job is, and the level of unhappiness from there is new to me. They have the power to do what they want to do, though I trust they will be sensitive to the unintended consequences that affect this board’s ability—and the ability of future boards—to manage our system. But in terms of the accusations, specifically which one?

TM: On the floor of the Senate, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst said that the board was engaging in the “character assassination” of President Powers, and at the Joint Oversight Committee, House Appropriations chair Jim Pitts said that the board was engaged in “witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt.” And that doesn’t include specific amendments and bills that would affect funding and governance of the board.

Hall: I would say that I have a growing and expanding mea culpa in not appreciating their need for communication from the board. I get that now. I did not recognize our need to be over there and talking to them.

TM: This was part of the reason for your meetings at the Lege last week with Regent Brenda Pejovich?

Hall: Yes, absolutely, as well with Chairman Pitts the week before. In regard to some of the accusations that have been thrown out, I don’t believe there has been a witch hunt. I believe that we are trying to execute our duties as regents to the best of our abilities. I’m comfortable answering any questions and would be available to talk to them about why we’re doing what we’re doing. My only regret is that we weren’t asked sooner, and that I didn’t know to reach out sooner to talk to them.

TM: Do you expect lawmakers to hold hearings this session? Regent Alex Cranberg has encouraged that possibility as a way to clear the air.

Hall: They haven’t scheduled anything to my knowledge. Senator Kel Seliger told me that we would be called before the oversight committee, and if they call me, I will certainly be there to answer their questions. I think that’s healthy.

TM: Let’s return to Thursday’s vote regarding the investigation into the Law School Foundation. This is something you have spent a great deal of time looking into yourself. What have you been looking at specifically, and why is it necessary to conduct a new investigation? What’s wrong with Burgdorf’s original report, which was released to the public in October 2012.

Hall: Part of the whole theme of the “witch hunt” is that there has been audit after audit after audit and multiple investigations. The first time the board had ever heard of the forgivable loan program was in December 2011, when UT-Austin was obligated to release information publicly based on an open records request by three members of the Law School faculty. Burgdorf was asked to take on the investigation, but the problem was that as this thing unfolded over the course of the year, I began to believe that we didn’t have a true investigation. I had continuing questions about it—and I wasn’t the only one. The investigation began in January, and by April I was asking what’s happening. I never thought it was fair, frankly, for Mr. Burgdorf to conduct the investigation. He’s a lawyer, and this was his community. It was a very tough charge, if you will.

TM: There were potential conflicts of interest?

Hall: Personal conflicts of interest, professional conflicts of interest. If he did discover something unpleasant, it would be tough for him to address. But he really wanted to do the review, and so we proceeded down this path. But by May, I still hadn’t seen the draft, and we continued to talk about that at the board level. To verify the report, the New York firm Paul Hastings was hired as a quote “independent reviewer,” but its team only reviewed the legal conclusions. When you read the report all the way through, there are questions not answered, there were questions not asked, and there are some things that were very obviously overlooked. So we go on through the summer, and it became clear that there were other underlying issues. And then I discovered that the report was being disseminated before the board had seen it.

TM: You are saying that outside people saw the report before the board did?

Hall: Yes, and that was cause for concern. The conclusions were already known others.

TM: Who were they, and how were people getting that information?

Hall: My understanding was that the Office of General Counsel was sharing the conclusions of the report, if not the report itself, with targets of the investigation, and that was a real issue for me. Now we’re in the fall of 2012, and we still have questions about the underlying facts. It’s the old, “Who knew what and when?” How was it being run at the Law School? Who was in charge and who was responsible? These are pure management questions. So the decision was made to run it by the AG to make sure that we were complying with our fiduciary duties. The AG reviewed the legal conclusions of the report, as you know, and the conclusion that he drew about the program was that it was improper and that it should be shut down immediately.

Incidentally, starting back in 2011 I had already been working for the UT System to try to bring clarity and efficiency for all of our schools in terms of how we comply with open records requests. And part of that was looking at documents related to UT-Austin because they had the most, and one of the things I wanted to see was the size of the documents we were talking about. So I asked to see all of them. I’ve read enough now to know that I don’t believe it’s accurate to say on page one, footnote one of the report: “There exists no evidence that anyone at the Foundation or the Law School attempted to or did conceal the forgivable personal loan program.” I believe that it had been concealed. The only question is, Who was it concealed from? If page one is inaccurate, then the legal review done by Paul Hastings and the subsequent review by the attorney general were based on bad facts.

TM: Why do you believe the report was incomplete?

Hall: I don’t want to make any direct statements on motivations—Burgdorf is obviously a very talented lawyer—but the report is incomplete. I’ve gone through all the materials, probably six or seven Open Records Requests that contained both public and confidential files, and it’s very clear that the report was incomplete. But at this point we’ll wait for the Attorney General to determine these things. We have had incredible donors who have been instrumental in making the UT Law School a great institution. That shouldn’t be overlooked. So this is about the integrity of the process and the board doing its job so that when the donors give money, we manage that money appropriately. That is not a witch hunt—that is our duty.

TM: So your concerns are not about the forgivable loan program itself, but how it was administered and its level of transparency.

Hall: Yes, this is about integrity and trust. It’s not about the vehicle itself.

TM: So what other red flags jumped out at you? I think the public deserves to know if you have found something that is critical to the decision to conduct another investigation.

Hall: I refer to the letter from Dean Larry Sager to his colleagues, which is included in the report. [Editor’s note: Dean Sager had arranged for himself to receive a $500,000 forgivable loan, the revelation of which led President Powers to ask him to step down in December 2011 and was a primary focus of the Burgdorf report.] I don’t know if the letter was contemporaneous with his resignation—I think it was prior to that—but it reads, “When I became dean, at least three categories of compensation were not available for review by the Budget Committee: summer research stipends; most other salary supplements described in various ways, including ‘housing supplements’; and the loan arrangements described above. At the onset of my deanship, the Budget Committee urged me to make information about all aspects of compensation available. I declined to do so.” So it was not made clear to the budget committee and it was not made clear to the provost. And everything should be transparent to the provost, who is in charge of all compensation matters related to the university. This was clearly unusual, and that is a red flag.

TM: The previous dean of the law school was Bill Powers, correct?

Hall: I believe so, yes.

TM: Do you believe that that letter suggests that, as dean, he was not providing that information to the budget committee?

Hall: No, I don’t know that.

TM: But it bears investigation?

Hall: The whole thing bears investigation. We need to understand the facts. And, you know, I only know what I’ve read now and I can draw conclusions on my own, but I’m not the investigator. It warrants further review.

TM: I think it’s also worth saying that Burgdorf, who announced that he would be stepping down at the end of this month, left because of dissatisfaction with this report. Can you shed any light on that?

Hall: As you know, the chancellor is the boss on these matters, and we don’t get into specific personnel issues. But obviously the board deciding to set aside his report means something.

TM: I want to back up a little bit and ask you about your relationship with the University of Texas prior to becoming a regent in 2011. What were your goals, and did you expect to go down this path from the beginning of your tenure?

Hall: Let me say it like this: sometimes the grass is not always greener someplace else. When I came down to Austin for my first visit as a graduating high school senior, I fell in love with the university, its sheer size, its intensity, its energy. I met my wife in chemistry class. I studied economics and history, and the campus became a place that I cared about deeply and remains unmatched anywhere in the United States as far as I’m concerned.

As for my involvement on the board, I was on the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which is also a governor appointment, and I got word from the governor’s office and then from the governor himself that he was considering appointing me to the Board of Regents. We talked about the need to figure out what to do to improve the opportunities for the kids. And he was troubled by the cost of education.

TM: Affordability was a key issue from the outset?

Hall: Affordability, the cost of education, the staggering debt loads that these families were having to undertake, and the need for more pathways. I saw this opportunity as the single greatest opportunity in my lifetime to make a really positive contribution to the state.

TM: Has it been worth it?

Hall: It’s the job—it would be great if the only role of a regent was to cheer all the successes of our students and faculty, but I think a board has to make the tough decisions, and this is a hard thing. I’m extremely proud to be associated with this board and these regents and the chancellor, and I think we’re doing a good job.

TM: Have you felt any pressures—directly or indirectly—from the governor’s office to pursue any of this?

Hall: I’ve received no directives from the governor other than the importance of figuring this out. It’s not just about affordability, it’s not just about accessibility, it’s about the quality of education.

TM: Do you feel there has been a personal toll for you to pay?

Hall: Frankly, I’m doing great. And, you know, I look around the country at other boards that don’t deal with problems, and I think they have a tougher time. Our goal is to deal with them and be stronger because of it. I don’t worry about the inaccuracies that I hear about in the media.

TM: Speaking of the media, there was a recent report in the Texas Tribune about your original application to become a regent, in which the reporter, Jay Root, identified several lawsuits that you had been party to that had not appeared on that application. There was sharp reaction from lawmakers, who said they felt you weren’t being transparent—or worse. Were there mistakes in the application? And if so, was it an oversight or something else?

Hall: The application I filled out had two questions that have led people to accuse me of doing something inappropriate. I listed two lawsuits that were material to me, and then there were a number of lawsuits that were not included at the time. I sent in my supplemental information to the governor’s office on Friday. One of my businesses is a mitigation bank, and one of the obligations I have to the Army Corps of Engineers is to protect the wetlands. The lawsuits that were omitted all had to do with protecting the wetlands from eminent domain. These were not material lawsuits, in terms of personal value or investment value. These were things where we were attempting to get the pipelines to not come through the wetlands and to protect the aquatics.

So based on my understanding of the question, these clearly didn’t fit. I had discussions with the governor’s staff at the time of the application process, and I asked about these issues. I was not asked to supplement my answer then, but it was discussed. The other lawsuit was material, but at the time I listed it under the bankruptcy section, where my partnership had been in a bankruptcy and all of the litigation that this spawned came from that. I listed that, and then I had a conversation with the governor’s staff to explain this lawsuit. So it was absolutely disclosed in my mind. There was no intent to do anything other than to be fully forthcoming.

TM: Is this something that could put your membership on the board in jeopardy?

Hall: Well, the governor can certainly ask me to step down if he thinks it warrants that, and if he does, I will do so. And if my friend Dan Branch [the co-chairman of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency] wants to initiate impeachment against me, he has every right to do so. I respect that. But there was a sense, and I said this to one of the senators on Wednesday, that you may not like the message that you hear from me but there’s a little bit of shooting the messenger here. What we really ought to be talking about is how we’re going to help not only the University of Texas but all the other institutions achieve their goals—and most importantly, our students.

TM: Is there anything else about your business dealings that could come to light that could be problematic? You’ve done a lot of work with TxDOT, for example. Is there anything else that could pop up?

Hall: You know, I would expect that if you want to shoot the messenger, people will say whatever they want. In terms of contracts with TxDOT, that’s not exactly accurate. I don’t participate in the types of projects—we don’t build roads or own a fleet of trucks—that are associated with the construction of highways and the like. TxDOT purchases wetland credits from our bank, and they can buy them from us or they can buy them from somebody else or they can do the mitigation themselves.

TM: Let’s talk about how the investigation plays out with the attorney general’s office. The popular narrative is that this is about President Powers. So let me ask you directly: What is your view of President Powers? And have you had any specific conversations with President Powers about the Law School Foundation?

Hall: Regarding the law school, I have not had any conversations other than what we had when we interviewed President Powers about this. When I first came on the board, he was the first president I reached out to. I wanted to open a dialogue and hear his concerns. I reached out, but I felt that I was unsuccessful in that regard. I guess you could say I never felt that he hugged me back. But I do believe that everything that occurs at the university is ultimately the president’s responsibility. I wouldn’t want to draw any conclusion on this investigation or the outcome. The investigation needs to find out the underlying facts of what took place, and then we’ll get the report.

TM: Let’s talk about some of those charges that have come up in terms of the board micromanaging the University of Texas. Is that a fair characterization of what the board has been doing?

Hall: No, definitely not. As an example, there was a board meeting where it was suggested that we were harshly questioning the president. This related specifically to a question regarding development that I had asked. There is some background to that. In early 2012, I was at a CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) conference, which is an international association that makes decisions about how to report fundraising and what types of gifts count. I was approached by a gentleman who asked me about the unique situation that UT-Austin didn’t have a Vice President of Development, who would be in charge of the university’s fundraising campaign. I didn’t know that. We were in the middle of a $3 billion “Campaign for Texas,” so when I returned to Austin, I wanted to learn more about it.

So I asked our vice chancellor about the campaign, about all the 35 different colleges and schools, their goals, their consulting reports, everything. Then I made a request that UT-Austin provide somebody from development to come talk to us about these questions. President Powers came to the meeting, he spoke for the university on this issue, and it was attended by Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, Dr. Randa Safady, Dr. Pedro Reyes, and others, and we had a very meaningful conversation.

It was clear to me, once I looked at the numbers, that there was cause for concern.  This is particularly important because in an era of declining state revenues, for every dollar that we spent on investment, we can generate $8 in return. This is something where we can add sustaining funds to the University of Texas as well as our other campuses. But it was clear that a number of our colleges and schools were not tracking...

TM: Not tracking to their fundraising goals?

Hall: Yes. And it was obvious to me, at least in this meeting, that President Powers didn’t really agree with the idea that you need a strategic leader with a deep understanding of development. I thought that was a mistake. This is not an area where we cannot have a very strong person in this role.

TM: Was he concerned that your information suggested that the fundraising efforts weren’t tracking to the level that they should have been?

Hall: I think he was surprised, I’m not sure that he knew the numbers, you know. When I look at one school that aspires to raise $155 million and I find them at $10 million with about two years left in the campaign, that’s a problem. The Texas Exes are aspiring to raise $150 million, but they’re at $50 million. Undergraduate Studies, which is one of the concepts that came out of the Commission of 125, they aspired to raise $165 million and they’re at less than $8 million. We need to make sure that we have a strategic plan in place for our schools to succeed. You know our deans work tirelessly to raise money to accomplish these goals, but you have to have a strategic development head to organize this. I didn’t think there should be a decentralized plan, and I made that clear to President Powers.

TM: Was there an explanation for why he made that decision?

Hall: It wasn’t something he thought was necessary. He saw the money as being raised by the individual colleges. But the reality of it is that central development is a huge component of these schools being able to accomplish their goals. That’s where the fundraisers are. In fact, the consultant report that I read leading into the campaign suggested that we needed to double our front line officers. And we’re not talking about insignificant numbers; we’re talking about 75 or 100 people.

One of the other things that came out of the conversation was related to something called “non-monetary gifts,” and this is an area that can be a point of concern. Sometimes there’s confusion, and donors’ intentions are not always aligned with institutional intentions. We had excelled in the non-monetary category, and we were way ahead of our aspirational peer in raising this. So I asked about it, and it turns out it was a nine-figure gift from Landmark Graphics. It was software, which is critical to our educational component in the Jackson School of Geosciences, for instance. It is a real benefit for us. But the problem is that it doesn’t count under the fundraising guidelines. We reviewed the license agreement, and you can see very quickly it doesn’t count—it’s not a charitable gift. If the University of Texas had had a senior person who had the authority to direct the campaign, I don’t believe we would have made that mistake. And I don’t believe some of our schools would be lagging so far behind in their goals.

TM: So that gift from Landmark Graphics had to come off the books, putting the university even farther from it goal?

Hall: Right, and when you back out what was counted that should not have been counted, we fall from third in the country to twelfth in terms of our campaign. So it gives a false sense that we’re doing better than we are. From 2007 – 2012, we have had to remove $216 million in non-monetary gifts based on CASE’s guidelines.

TM: Do you know where the university is right now in terms of its overall goal?

Hall: I don’t know exactly where the number is. The top line number is important, but strategically we want each of our schools and colleges to succeed. Based on my information, nearly half of them are at less than 50 percent of their goals. Now, we’ve got two years to go on this campaign, and we can still make changes right now that can help. But I asked President Powers about this at our meeting. The board had asked him, and the chancellor had written him a letter, and after those requests I’m like, “What’s happening?” Because we can’t afford not to be doing this.

TM: Earlier you had mentioned misinformation in the press, and I want to ask you something related to Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst. When he referred to “character assassination,” on the floor of the Senate, he was referring to a letter he believed had been written by the member of the board—more specifically, that you yourself had written it. That turned out not to be the case, and Chairman Gene Powell jumped very strongly to the board’s defense and criticized the lieutenant governor for not checking on that ahead of time. So what was your involvement with that letter?

Hall: I had received two anonymous letters at my office in Dallas right before Christmas. I scanned them and emailed them to the board’s general counsel. Then I mailed in the hard copies, which is the procedure we’re supposed to follow. I didn’t have any more contact with them after that. To my knowledge nobody shared those with anybody, they were not circulated, and the contents were not for me to talk about.

TM: Do you think that Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst should have reached out to you directly after he spoke with Chairman Powell on the phone?

Hall: You know, I’m not going to second guess his motives.  I wish there had been more reaching out. I’ve never received a call from anybody. Dan Branch has been a friend of mine for many years. He’s never asked me a question about this situation, and the next thing I know he’s asking his staff to investigate the rules for impeachment. I’m mystified by that, frankly. But, you know, if the lieutenant governor doesn’t want to call, I certainly don’t expect anybody to feel compelled to call me.

TM: Are there other areas about the management of UT-Austin that you’re concerned about?

Hall: This kind of goes to the micromanaging allegations and the idea that we make these massive data requests. The fact is that when we make our requests for information, the problem is that most of the stuff that we ask for should already exist. It shouldn’t be so tough to get that information from the university. That burns time and opportunity. And if they need to compile the information, that’s a problem, because they should already have it. I’m sure they’re looking at the same issues we are, and if they’re not, they should be. It’s a general reluctance to work with us, and that’s the feeling we have. Everything comes so grudgingly.

TM: I recently hosted an event on higher education at Texas A&M-San Antonio, and Chairman Powell and Chancellor Cigarroa were both on the panel. When I asked Powell about the situation, he pushed back hard and told me that he believed the media are covering the wrong story. Do you agree?

Hall: I would suggest that the media take a step back and look at the evidence of what this board has been doing and not limit itself to the narrative being promulgated by a small group of people in Austin that have created a propaganda effort against this board.

TM: Who is the small group?

Hall: To me this gets to the heart of why we’re having this issue, and when I say “this issue” I’m talking about the open and unhealthy conflict that exists not only between the Legislature and the board but also alums being unhappy and the press coverage that we all find unflattering. When I came on the board in 2011 there was an immediate activity by a small group of people—maybe ten or so—who formed a group called the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education. The idea is to support higher education, and who doesn’t want to support higher education? But the reality of it is, this group has damaged the university and this board’s effort. They’ve spent, based on what I’ve heard, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they have hired Karen Hughes [a close advisor to George W. Bush when he was governor and president], who has been managing a campaign to delegitimize the efforts of this board as it relates to the University of Texas at Austin.

It’s amazing, but this is how it works. We have a situation where Regent Brenda Pejovich will make a request through her committee, and that committee wants to see information on faculty productivity, to pick a hot-button issue. And sometimes within thirty minutes, a member of this coalition will call one of our executive officers and ask, “Why do you want to see this? What does this mean?” And amazingly, a day or two later, an article will appear in the paper saying that we’re on the attack. And all we’re doing is asking for information. Another example is having a member of the coalition directly contacting our outside attorneys to talk about privileged information about fundraising. To me, that’s an ethical breach.

And don’t get me wrong. If you go and look at the people who are on that coalition, there are dozens of people I know who are terrific and who care deeply about higher education and love the University of Texas. But I don’t think they understand what this small cadre is doing. These are people who are extremely close to President Powers. And I wonder why he doesn’t tamp this down, or if he’s actually participating in it, because it’s unhealthy and it’s not constructive. And in a larger sense, UT-Austin is just one of our fifteen institutions. Every minute of distraction created by this group takes away from all of these good things, and I think that’s outrageous. And these aren’t outside forces. I mean, “thems is us.” I feel like they’ve lit a fire in our own house and they’re fanning the flames. It’s terribly disheartening. We should be working together, and I wish they would rethink their tactics and allow us to rejoin the team, as it were.

TM: Has this been discussed among the board?

Hall: It is very well known, and I’m surprised that the press hasn’t figured it out. I look at what this board, this chairman, and what this chancellor is doing, and I look at the $50 million that we have set aside to build this online effort, the Institute for Transformational Learning. That is one of the great opportunities in our lifetime to help the UT System to move forward and take the lead internationally and help so many students, but some of the legislation making its way through the legislature could jeopardize those funds. That’s one of those unintended consequences.

TM: If you had to evaluate the job that President Powers is doing, what would you say?

Hall: I have set no goals for him, and under his tenure there have been many celebrated accomplishments for which he deserves to share in the credit. I agree with his lofty goal to be the number one public university in the United States. But it’s not enough to say you want to be number one, you have to have a strategic, measurable plan. And the plan that I think he’s been executing is heavily dependent on simply needing more money.

In fact, I went back and asked to see his plan, and I was given the Commission of 125; his annual working papers, which is seven or eight pages; and his inaugural address. When I look at what his goals are for himself and for the university, we’re treading water. Graduation rates have not really moved. Freshman retention rates and student-to faculty ratios haven’t moved. The status quo is not acceptable; we need to challenge ourselves to do things differently.

We’re facing some watershed changes in higher ed, and we need to adapt and to evolve. I don’t see that in the plan. Remember, the president works for the chancellor, and the chancellor handles the evaluations, but we want the university to be more than it is. I was happy to see that President Powers mentioned the need the other day for a $10,000 degree. That’s great. It’s not for everybody, but it’s great.

When I look at graduation rates, for example, we want them to improve, but we also want improve learning and improved quality. The problem is that that goal had been there from the beginning, and it hasn’t moved. It wasn’t until Chancellor Cigarroa’s Framework for Excellence [published in August 2011] that President Powers appointed a committee to lead the effort. I’m happy he’s doing it but it took almost five years to start since he became president. As fellow regent Alex Cranberg wrote the other day, Powers put together a blue-ribbon panel to look at efficiency, and he found $490 million in savings over ten years. But I think that was set in motion because of the Chancellor’s Framework. When I look at great leaders, they are typically the ones who are the drivers of these initiatives.

TM: Chancellor Cigarroa, however, recently did an interview with the Texas Tribune, and he gave President Powers high marks in four major categories: graduation rates, cost containment, research expenditures, and philanthropy. He maintained that Powers is doing a good job.

Hall: We all have our own perspective, and most importantly, the chancellor’s matters more than mine does. And he’s on this every day, and I have great confidence in his ability to evaluate our leaders. These are my views and my concerns, and I’m but one vote on the board.

TM: If Chancellor Cigarroa did make a motion to change leadership, would you vote to support President Powers or not? Is the university better served with or without his leadership?

Hall: To the extent that the chancellor recommended to the board that any leader needed to be replaced, I would vote in favor of the change. But I can’t predict what’s going to happen next. We’re going to continue to do our jobs, and we’d all like to be cheering again. I hope that we’ll get there. I have great confidence in the University of Texas at Austin. We have almost 460,000 living alums and a terrific can-do attitude. The university has broad shoulders. They will survive, we will get through this, and the university will be better for it. But no one person is indispensable to our mission.  


Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education's Response to Regent Wallace Hall

Tags: POLITICS

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week