Point Austin: Perry's Peacock
Wallace Hall's abuse of power serves his governor
"I guess you could say I never felt that he hugged me back." – UT System Regent Wallace Hall to Texas Monthly, concerning his early interactions with UT-Austin President Bill Powers, April 15, 2013
If you're at all interested in the state of higher education in Texas, I recommend reading last month's "Investigative Report to the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations regarding Conduct by University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall and Impeachment Under the June 25, 2013 Proclamation." That's the $20 title of Committee counsel Rusty Hardin's report, more conveniently summed up as "The Crimes and Misdemeanors of Wallace Hall." By either name, it's pretty clear that Hall's approach to Powers, from day one of the regent's 2011 appointment by Gov. Rick Perry, was not the sort to evoke manly hugs. Indeed, Hall targeted Powers for removal, and hasn't been at all particular about how he might make that happen.
The report documents in considerable and evocative detail Hall's ham-handed and oppressive efforts to interfere in university operations, to overwhelm staff with relentless, indiscriminate, and wasteful demands for documents and information, to pressure administrators to do his bidding, to retaliate against or urge dismissal of anyone who had the gall to disagree with him, and to defy and obstruct legislative efforts to investigate his conduct. In sum, Hardin's report makes a pretty convincing case that Hall persistently violated university protocols and regents' rules, abused his office, undermined the university and its public reputation, and may have broken criminal laws by revealing confidential student information.
That's plenty for one rap sheet. But beyond that, the report also reflects that Hall lied by omission on his application for appointment – failing to disclose lawsuits against him alleging fraud, theft, and illegal eavesdropping, among other things. That's particularly amusing since he has spent much of his regency engaged in fishing expeditions, reviewing hundreds of thousands of university documents playing "Gotcha!" trying (and failing) to catch Powers or other officials in some substantive wrongdoing.
There was also that unseemly business early last year of trying to recruit Alabama football coach Nick Saban to replace Mack Brown, in violation of institutional personnel policies and over Powers' head. Hall apparently decided that idiotic gambit was okay because, as he told Saban's agent, "Powers wouldn't be here at the end of the year."
A Clown Show
It's quite a record of incompetence, malfeasance, abuse of office, and generally renegade behavior, and it may well get Hall impeached and eventually dismissed by the Lege. Since the whole mess has just been referred to the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County D.A., there's at least an outside chance he'll be indicted. If Hall had any self-respect – instead of an ego the size of the UT Tower – he would apologize to all and sundry for behaving like a royal buffoon, and step down. If he had any real affection for the university he professes to love and is charged to serve, he'd promise never to show his face on campus again.
None of that's likely to happen, and instead we will all be treated to the invigorating spectacle of an ongoing headline combat among regents, administrators, legislators, prosecutors, and anyone else who wants to weigh in on Hall's disgraceful conduct. Nor is this a partisan fight: In fact the Committee is bipartisan, and the legislator most personally locked in combat with Hall has been Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie (in a reckless attempt to embarrass Pitts, Hall fed confidential UT documents to cooperative reporters).
All this is fine by me; spectacle is my business. Hall's meddling has already cut short the tenure of a distinguished chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa. Powers can take care of himself – he told the regents they were welcome to fire him, but he wouldn't resign. I did find myself feeling somewhat sorry for VP Kevin Hegarty and his staff, subject to abundant abuse by Hall for not delivering, on demand, reams of unredacted documents. (As a journalist who lives by open records laws, I consider particularly reprehensible the abuse of those laws by people who don't give a damn whose lives and reputations they destroy in the process.)
Wallace Hall is a wealthy popinjay and a grandiose bully who never should have been appointed regent in the first place, at least by anyone who purports to care about Texas and its constitutionally mandated "University of the First Class." Certainly by now, Gov. Perry should have demanded his resignation. But then Perry has repeatedly shown his complete contempt for UT and indeed education in general, and this instance is no different. Hall was among a group of regents the governor appointed in the wake of the Jeff Sandefer affair – Perry's foolhardy attempt to impose Sandefer's boilerplate corporate privatization system on university education. While the others hide in plain sight, Hall has been a vainglorious loose cannon, doing everything he can to obstruct and embarrass the university, including loudly abusing professional staff, expressly undermining fundraising, and intimidating legislative witnesses.
Hardin's report quotes Perry's contribution to the anti-Powers campaign, in a 2013 email to Hall and other sycophantic regents: "I know you all get tired of being hammered by the charlatans and peacocks but the fight is being won." Certainly charlatan Perry and his peacock Hall have significantly advanced the cause of undermining the educational mission and the national reputation of the University of Texas. If that's what they had in mind, they've got plenty of reason to celebrate.
Posted here (without appendices) is the March 2014 "Investigative Report to the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations regarding Conduct by University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall and Impeachment Under the June 25, 2013 Proclamation."