Campus Scenes

The Screw Turns at the University of Texas

Dissing impeachment...and then voting for it.

By 5.14.14

Aidan Wakely-Mulroney (Creative Commons)
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A Texas politician named Dan Flynn really liked my piece in this publication last month, which was weird, since I called him and his colleagues “crooked,” and accused them of putting on a show trial meant to intimidate a whistleblowing university regent into silence.

But Flynn liked my piece so much that he apparently copied it. He seems to have cut and pasted long passages from this article and two others that I wrote for Watchdog.org, and put them into his own letter, right down to a typo that slipped past this magazine’s usually squinty editors.

In fairness, I have to admit that my arguments were devastatingly effective. If he needed to refute a 2,380-page report in just a few paragraphs, I can see why he’d want to borrow some choice irony and hypocrisy.

The thing is, it was his own report that he was refuting. Flynn is the co-chair of an ad hoc committee of the Texas Legislature that has spent the last eight months stitching together pretexts to impeach Wallace Hall, a Dallas businessman who serves on the Board of Regents that oversees the University of Texas System.

Flynn’s committee voted 7-1 on Monday to start drafting articles of impeachment.

Hall makes people angry, because he keeps exposing cozy deals that benefit the well-connected at the expense of the taxpayer, from an off-the-books compensation scandal at UT’s law school, to no-bid contracts rife with conflicts of interest, to favoritism in admissions for friends of lawmakers.

Just two weeks after Hall began investigating which lawmakers were pulling strings with UT’s president, Bill Powers, the Legislature launched impeachment proceedings against him.

Flynn’s job was to lead the committee railroading Hall, and he did it well until last week, when he wrote a schizophrenic nine-page letter, somehow demanding both Hall’s resignation and further investigation of the scandals he had uncovered.

After badgering Hall for months, Flynn reversed himself in the letter, writing that Hall’s “obnoxious attitude…is simply not a reason to impeach, nor does there appear to be legal ground to do so.” Then Monday, he flipped again and voted that there were reasons and grounds for impeachment. Not one newspaper or television reporter in the state even bothered to point out his apparent insanity.

That 2,380-page report produced by the committee’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, offered four reasons to impeach Hall, yet Flynn rejected every one of them in his letter, copying three of the arguments I had made. (Maybe he just missed my arguments about the fourth charge.)

Compare:

Cassidy: “Most of those ‘impossible’ demands could have been met by opening the two file cabinets, but UT authorities took the position that a regent didn’t even have clearance to have the records, while undergrad work-study employees did. The kids would need to review and copy those files page by page before they could authorize their boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss to see them.”

Flynn: “Most of those ‘impossible’ demands could have been met by opening records. However, UT authorities suggested to the committee that a Regent did not have the proper level of clearance to access the records, however the University had employed, undergraduate work-study employees with access to the files in question.”

Cassidy: “Hall eventually was furnished with unredacted versions of many of those records, which is where the second charge of 'disclosing confidential information' comes in. These Javerts have taken the position that their favor-seeking emails are actually covered by federal student privacy statues (sic), so Hall must have broken the law by showing them to his defense attorney and an investigator for the state Attorney General’s office.”

Flynn: “Hall was furnished with unredacted versions of many of those records, which is where the second charge of ‘disclosing confidential information’ comes in. The position is that the emails are actually covered by federal student privacy statues (sic), so Regent Hall could have broken the law by showing them to his defense attorney.”

Cassidy: “The final serious accusation, Hardin says, is that Hall pressured UT’s recordkeeper to change the testimony he gave to a legislative committee considering impeachment. Apparently it was by telepathy, as there’s no record of Hall contacting the man.”

Flynn: “The final serious accusation, Mr. Hardin states, is Hall pressured UT's record-keeper to change the testimony he gave to a legislative committee considering impeachment. No official record has been produced of Regent Hall contacting the record-keeper in question.”

There are more, but my point isn’t that Flynn is a bit itchy with his word processor’s cut-and-paste function. It’s that he left himself no reason to recommend Hall’s impeachment, then did it anyway, without explanation. If that’s not hypocrisy, nothing is.

Flynn justifies himself by accusing Hall of failing to cooperate with the committee’s investigation, as if that were an offense of any sort. It’s an unserious accusation anyway. When the committee called witnesses, it offered every school official a subpoena, which would prevent testimony from running afoul of FERPA, the federal education privacy law.

Every school official got a subpoena, that is, except for Wallace Hall. If Hall had testified without a subpoena about all the lawmakers who’d written emails and letters seeking admissions favors, they would have accused him of violating FERPA. Actually, they’ve already accused him of violating FERPA for showing those emails to an investigator for the state Attorney General’s office.

Since Hall declined to speak without a subpoena, they can now accuse him of failing to prove his accusations.

“Hall’s actions,” Flynn wrote, “are not unlike those of a small grade school bully throwing out barbs against others then running to hide behind his mother’s skirt (legal counsel), all the while continuing to throw rocks.”

While I can’t explain Flynn’s imagery — maybe the barbs are on the rocks? — I can say that this position was the only ground he had left, as of Monday. Maybe Hall was just inventing things. Where’s the proof that lawmakers are pulling strings at UT?

Well, there’s a report that the UT Chancellor’s office has been sitting on for a month, showing just how effective those favor-seeking emails were in gaining applicants admission.

Then there’s the evidence I spent six months compiling and published Tuesday, showing dozens of connections between influential politicians and UT Law’s least qualified graduates.

That’s the article Flynn really ought to copy.

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About the Author

Jon Cassidy is the Texas bureau chief for Watchdog.org.