AUSTIN (AP/KXAN) — State lawmakers, wealthy donors, university regents and even current and former athletes wrote letters to top campus officials, helping otherwise underqualified students win University of Texas admission, according to a newspaper report Monday.
The letters, obtained under state open records laws, were written outside the normal admissions process and sometimes went directly to then-university President Bill Powers, the Dallas Morning News reported. They surfaced as part of an outside investigation known as the Kroll report, which highlighted 73 students from 2009 to 2012 who entered the university system’s flagship Austin campus despite relatively low high school grades and SAT scores.
The letters came from famous alumni including Ben Crenshaw and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. They also came from state House Speaker Joe Straus, former UT regents Jess Hay and Tom Hicks, and former UT quarterback Randy McEachern. There is no information about the students involved.
State law dictates that UT automatically accept students who graduate in the top 7 percent of their high school class. Others have admissions officials consider their academic records, including high school grades, SAT scores, essays, socioeconomic status, racial or ethnic background and letters of recommendation.
More than 250 letters were written on behalf of the 73 students in the Kroll report. That investigation suggested that political or personal connections may have influenced the decision, but found that Powers didn’t violate any laws or UT rules.
Straus wrote to the director of the admissions office in 2012 requesting consideration of the daughter of a close family friend. The San Antonio Republican wrote that he knew the student “well as our families are close friends.”
Some letters were blunt, like one from Fort Worth oil millionaire W.A. “Tex” Moncrief, who wrote: “I do not know this young man or anything about his qualifications, but I do know (the student’s) parents and I know his grandparents very well.” Moncrief has given at least $25 million to UT-Austin.
Hicks, the Dallas multimillionaire and former owner of the Texas Rangers, wrote to the office of admissions in 2011 on behalf of an applicant whose grandparents “have been longtime generous supporters of UT-Austin.” He is a former regent and his brother is current regent Steve Hicks.
On Tuesday, UT System Chancellor William McRaven issued the following statement:
“Letters of recommendation submitted by friends, donors, elected officials, regents and others has been a reasonable and widely acceptable practice, not only at UT but across the state and nation.” I am not aware of any university in the country that has not received unsolicited letters of support for students applying for admission. Our universities receive thousands of letters of recommendation each year. Moreover, the topic of unsolicited letters of recommendation from elected officials and others to UT has already been addressed in one internal and two external reviews. Letters of recommendation do not decide a student’s fate. The university makes a determination regarding whether or not a student is qualified based on an extensive review of many factors. It is inaccurate to draw a correlation between a single letter of recommendation and the admission of a student.
In August, the UT System, in consultation with all of its university presidents, will present recommendations on admissions policies to the Board of Regents. These recommendations have at their core upholding the integrity of the admissions process both today and going forward.”