What if Wallace Hall, the Crazy Bad UT Regent, Isn't? Crazy or Bad?

Categories: Schutze

ut-law.jpg
University of Texas' law school: Look carefully, you might see a back door.
Whoa. Wait up. Take five. Let's take another look at that Wallace Hall narrative. He's the University of Texas regent from Dallas who is supposed to be a crazy, nuts, Tea Party, Rick-Perry-buddy, off-the-wall, Neanderthal education-hater who needs to be impeached, criminally prosecuted and generally expunged.

OK. But what if he's not?

Jon Cassidy, a former newspaper reporter who works in Austin for the conservative advocacy group Watchdog.org, has compiled what appears at least on the surface to be compelling evidence that Hall may have had a good case to make all along. UT officials have always claimed Hall's aggressive inquiries into admissions policy at UT have amounted to a super-expensive lunatic witch-hunt. But Cassidy has compiled a name-naming list of instances in which legislators and wealthy donors have been able to shoe-horn unqualified candidates into UT law School.

Wallace_Hall.jpg
University of Texas
Wallace Hall
Here's the thing. Maybe you're not shocked that people with clout can help a kid get into law school. But this is UT law school. This is a place everybody has always assumed is harder to get into than that famous eye-of-the-needle place in the Bible.

Look, I read anything from Watchdog with huge skepticism. They're a division of The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, an outfit so far to the right I can't even see it from where I stand, which I guess could be less a comment on them than on where I stand. Maybe. I could get myself into more of a dudgeon about outfits like this posturing themselves as "news bureaus" if my own industry were not slashing state and Washington capitol bureaus left and right. Leave a vacuum, somebody's got to rush in.

I'm not totally sold yet, but so far Cassidy's work reads to me as solid, diligent, hard-probing to the bone. And here's a basic bottom line on it: The UT system conducted its own investigation of Hall's accusations and Cassidy's reporting. First, they found that specific allegations brought forward by Hall as a regent and by Cassidy at Watchdog were valid.

The university looked at cases in which students with low test scores got into UT Law School anyway after key legislators wrote letters saying basically that they knew the student and wanted him or her admitted, bad scores be damned.

The university's own report says: "Given ... the fact that some interviewees indicated that influential recommendations outside the prescribed process do occasionally impact admissions decisions, it is not unreasonable to conclude that these letters of recommendation influenced the admissions decisions for some or all of these applicants."

But it also said, "The inquiry did not uncover any evidence of a systematic, structured, or centralized process of reviewing and admitting applicants recommended by influential individuals."

Oh yeah? Let's say they had discovered just that. What would it have looked like? Maybe a building with Doric columns and a name carved in stone, "Hall of Nudge-Nudge Wink-Wink?" Of course people seeking to skirt the admissions rules would not operate from a systematic structured centralized process. Neither do pickpockets.

The university, in the end, came to two mutually contradictory conclusions, based on a small sampling of admissions. The first was that many of the allegations of favoritism were probably on target. The second conclusion was that there was no need for any broader or deeper investigation that might unearth larger patterns of corruption or personal culpability on anybody's part. Instead the university indicated it would do a general in-house tidy-up of admissions procedures, after which everything would be fine.

Oh yeah, and meanwhile, let's impeach and indict Hall, who, with Cassidy, provided the only reason anybody ever found out a single breath of any of this in the first place.

The official UT line on all of this was published here in Dallas on June 1 by The Dallas Morning News in an op-ed opinion piece by Charles Matthews, former president of Exxon-Mobil and outgoing president of the main UT alumni organization. Matthew's piece was titled, "Setting Record Straight on UT Admissions-Regent Controversy."

I remember reading it and thinking, "Wait, what record?"

Today, four days later, the News publishes an op-ed piece by Cassidy explaining his research and laying out specific name-naming allegations of instances in which he claims UT Law School admitted people who weren't smart enough to be there. I assume Cassidy got the News to publish his piece after Matthews' piece was already in print on the argument that it's not fair to knock me down when you never allowed me to stand up in the first place. I'm not going to reproduce the name-naming here, because I haven't put my own eyes on the paper trail yet.

But this much I can see with my own eyes. In his preemptive knock-down piece, Matthews says Hall's inquiry into admissions policy and the attendant publicity are "a disservice to the exemplary students at UT and to the reputation of a nationally recognized law school."

Look, that's what they always say, and it's a magic show trick. It's what they said when the Halliburton got caught war profiteering in Iraq: Why publicize problems instead of talking about what's going right? That's always a false dichotomy.

I love UT (tell you about it later), and I have huge respect for it as an academic institution. I doubt me and anybody from the Franklin Center could get through dinner at the same table and still be civil. But the fact is that Cassidy at Watchdog and Hall as a regent make a case that cannot and should not be dismissed on what are basically loyalty-oath grounds. If we're loyal to UT (I am), then we should want to see this allegation of infection probed to the bone, not bandaged over and perfumed.

This may be about much more than law school admissions. Hall and Cassidy are taking knives to the whole good-old-boy structure in Austin, and, believe me, that's centralized and structured as hell. Please take note of the very centralized and structured nature of the reaction against them. It's why I say we do a full stop and listen to this whole Wallace Hall narrative fresh from the top again. All ears.

My Voice Nation Help
23 comments
MikeO
MikeO

Dang, horrible when the radical right proves to be right.
Almost equally sad in all of this is the fact the Texas Trib has shown themselves as more a protector of their donors than an objective news source.
Though a conservatives, I've often had respect for their work.  But this shows they, too, practice, Crony capitalism'.

MikeO
MikeO

Dang, horrible when the radical right proves to be right.
Almost equally sad in all of this is the fact the Texas Trib has shown themselves as more a protector of their donors than an objective news source.
Though a conservatives, I've often had respect for their work.  But this shows they, too, practice, Crony capitalism'.

MikeO
MikeO

Dang, horrible when the radical right proves to be right.
Almost equally sad in all of this is the fact the Texas Trib has shown themselves as more a protector of their donors than an objective news source.
Though a conservatives, I've often had respect for their work.  But tihs show, they, too, practice, cronie capitalism'.

parisrec
parisrec

There's some kind of weird football angle too.

RyanJackson
RyanJackson

Adam is right....Powers and his cronies (straus,pitts,branch)  have terribly devalued a UT law degree and should be held accountable.  A 128 LSAT and serial bar failures (58% pass rate) are abysmal.

RyanJackson
RyanJackson

Adam is right....Powers and his cronies (straus,pitts,branch)  have terribly devalued a UT law degree and should be held accountable.  A 128 LSAT and serial bar failures (58% pass rate) are abysmal and an embarrassment. 

Adam
Adam

How odd, Jim.  I agree wholeheartedly with your column, for the first time ever.  As a proud graduate of UT Law who worked his ass off to get in and get through, it makes me cringe to think that anyone who lacked the qualifications was given admission.  As you say below in the comments, "rules are rules," and of all things, you'd think admission to a top-tier law school would be reserved as a place where that simple equation would be honored.  You said it right above.  Applicants need to be demonstrably "smart enough" to get it, and that should be that.  Admission should be based on merit, and merit alone.


But the thing is, Jim, I feel the same way when I hear about someone being granted admission over more qualified applicants simply because they have a certain color skin, or otherwise fit some sort of double-secret admissions quota requirement.  And yet I strongly suspect you do not.  If not, why not?  Rules are rules.

mlisheron
mlisheron

Mr. Schutze has it exactly right, but I'd add that you might want to reconsider dismissing someone's reporting because you think you know the bias of the organization he works for. Why doesn't the press establishment in Texas have to answer for their failure to get at the truth because it dismissed Wallace Hall as a right wing nut? I address this at greater length here.

http://watchdog.org/146324/comforting-comfortable-afflicting-afflicted/

While it should never be about the politics, it is. I hope Mr. Schutze's piece provokes some soul searching, but I doubt it.

James080
James080

UT Law School was recently under investigation for a scheme of forgivable six figure loans made to numerous UT Law facility members by the non-profit UT Law Foundation. I wonder if there is any correlation between the donor list of the UT Law Foundation, which seems to have been established solely to funnel money to UT Law facility members, and the families of the unqualified students who gained admittance to UT Law? 

SCamp2
SCamp2

Fact is almost every university has exceptions. Much of UT's money comes from Austin and you have to keep those people happy. Don't fool yourself. As you read through Cassidy's article, you see the great equalizer - the number of exceptions who can't pass the bar. Is it fair that some qualified people did not get into law school, no. But life isn't fair, especially when others hold the strings.


And, as far as Powers not being in front of this, maybe this is his way of letting it be exposed and stopping it.

tb00
tb00

I know Wallace Hall slightly, and I think his motives and his tactics are suspect. (As far as I can tell, he's a jerk and then some.) And he's carrying water for the biggest Aggie in the history of Texas, whom I think hates UT and all it stands for. But regardless of Hall's motives, Cassidy's statistics about LSATs and whiffs on the Bar exam are pretty compelling.

This is something Powers should have gotten ahead of. The only way he could've beaten back legislators who pull strings would've been to take the highest moral high ground he could find. And even that would not necessarily have spared UT from a good goring by the Lege, to say nothing of Perry. But bowing to pressure and then trying to sweep it under the rug are losing strategies. To say nothing of just being wrong.

roo_ster
roo_ster

1. Whistle-blowers, dissidents, and gadflies many (most?) times are pig-headed jerks who do not care if their dissi-whistle-gadflying causes all sorts of disruption.  They may even have ulterior or nefarious motives.  *Which ought not to matter if the rotten fish they are pointing to is really rotten and needs tending.*


2. Hall's actions are embarrassing the heck out of policritters and flaying the not-as-bright children of influential people.  Is it any wonder they are going after him with sharpened knives and poison pens?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Adam

As a person trained in the law, surely you recognize legal policies aimed at achieving a legitimate goal and know the difference between those and some form of deliberate law breaking or thwarting of the law. Are you aware of any time when UT deliberately broke the law or defied a court? When I see someone trying to construe a legitimate policy aimed at achieving diversity  as "some sort of double-secret admissions quota requirement," I assume I'm looking at somebody who just doesn't like diversity.  

dingo
dingo

@SCamp2 

But life isn't fair...

State mineral royalties (from the PUF) are partially footing the bill for all UT students.

Peddling access to such a public largess in return for campaign contributions should be investigated by the OAG regardless of which institution it is occurring at.


 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@SCamp2

Whatever happened to "rules are rules?" And somehow construing this as a devious plot by Powers to clean house? C'mon, man. Get a grip.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@JimSX

How do you feel about the idea that affirmative action should be economic-based as opposed to race-based?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@TheRuddSki

Yeah, well, let me see. Was slavery economic-based? Was Jim Crow economic-based? Did Donald Sterling tell his girlfriend not to be photographed with poor people? The issue and the problems and the story have always been about race, color, ethnicity. So why in the world would we attack that problem by attacking something else? Sorry, but whenever I hear somebody tell me there's no such thing as a race issue, I figure it's somebody who's got a race issue.

"Oh, we don't object to having black neighbors. Our issue is entirely financial. We are concerned that our house will be worth less because other white people will worry that other white people will worry that other white people will object to having black neighbors."

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@JimSx

Got it. Positive racism.

All other things being equal, a black man from a very privileged background should take precedence over a white man from a background opposite privilege.

Fair enough, but for how many generations should this positive racial discrimination exist, and what is the pecking order if the economically-disadvantaged candidate is "of color", but not black, or not a man?

"Oh, we don't object to having black neighbors. Our issue is entirely financial. We are concerned that our house will be worth less because other white people will worry...

So cite of empirical data is in itself both racist and false.

Fair enough, but when blacks who leave Dallas for the suburbs specifically cite the growth of the Latino population as the motivation to flee, is that racist?

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

@JimSX I know for a fact I got into my alma mater because of geography (not too many kids from Texas applied there  back in the day). The fact is that many universities want "diversity" in their student bodies, and interpret that to mean many things--social, economic, ethnic, area of study and a host of other criteria. Yet a lot of people get real hung up just one of those factors, don't they?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Yup

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@JimSX

That towel almost hit me in the face.

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...