AUSTIN (AP) – A grand jury declined to indict a University of Texas regent on criminal charges in an investigation into the release of confidential student records, but issued a blistering report Tuesday decrying his “unaccountable and abusive behavior.”
Travis County prosecutors asked grand jurors to consider whether Wallace Hall disseminated confidential student information during his relentless pursuit of Austin campus records. State lawmakers already have censured Hall over his actions during a yearslong personal investigation of the campus administration, including President Bill Powers.
The four-page report issued by the grand jury contained no charges, but said Hall “used his positional power to the point of abuse,” that his actions lowered morale and caused talented staff to leave or avoid the university, and that he purposely avoided scrutiny by making verbal demands instead of written ones that could be documented.
The grand jury statement echoed previous reports prepared for state lawmakers that criticized Hall’s record requests that topped 800,000 pages, cost more than $1 million in expenses and overwhelmed University of Texas System and Austin campus officials.
The grand jury said that while Hall didn’t break any laws, it was “appalled at (Hall’s) unaccountable and abusive behavior.”
In a statement afterward, Hall didn’t address the grand jury report. He instead criticized House Speaker Joe Straus for initiating the original legislative investigation, and two of his chief critics at the Capitol, Rep. Dan Flynn, co-chair of the investigating committee, and Sen. Kel Seliger, chairman of the Senate Higher Education, who has tried to limit regents’ authority.
“Their use of the levers of political power to cover up wrongdoing by legislators should now be investigated, and those exposed for their abuses should be driven from office,” Hall said.
The state House initially investigated Hall for possible release of confidential student records as he dug into Austin campus admissions procedures. Lawmakers then turned their findings over to prosecutors.
The grand jury also called for Hall’s removal from office, an unlikely scenario.
University regents are appointed by the governor and confirmed for six-year terms. Removing Hall would first require that he be impeached by the House, a move lawmakers have already chosen not to make.
Hall is unlikely to leave the board on his own before his term expires in February 2017.
He refused a call by board Chairman Paul Foster to resign last year, and has been emboldened by a recent report critical of a back-door campus admissions process that allowed the president to admit a handful of students over the objection of the admissions office. Some of them had subpar academic credentials but were recommended by donors, regents or state lawmakers.
Powers has resigned effective June 1 and regents have already named provost Gregory Fenves, his top lieutenant, as the lone finalist to replace him. The board voted 5-3 to support Fenves, with Hall one of the dissenters.
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