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Legislators want to sit in on UT admissions investigation

Two state representatives from San Antonio who have been assigned to monitor the University of Texas System are taking their role seriously. Apparently more seriously than system officials would like.

Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat, and Lyle Larson, a Republican, told UT System Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster this week that they “plan on attending or otherwise monitoring all interviews” conducted by Kroll Associates Inc. in connection with its investigation into admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. The investigation was prompted in part by accusations that candidates who are recommended by state lawmakers and other influential people receive favoritism.

In a letter to Foster, the two legislators offered to have the interviews conducted at the Capitol, “which would have the added advantage of audio and video equipment to record and preserve the interviews.”

The system has hired Kroll, an investigative, security and compliance firm, to “determine if UT-Austin admissions decisions are made for any reason other than an applicant’s individual merit as measured by academic achievement and officially established personal holistic attributes, and if not, why not.”

The UT board will meet Monday by phone to consider the legislators’ plan. System officials declined to comment Friday. But the regents’ agenda for their meeting might have telegraphed their response, inasmuch as it calls for “actions of the Board necessary to maintain the integrity and independence of the investigation.”

System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said in June that he was commissioning the outside investigation in light of a new complaint about the “integrity” of the admissions process. That was a reversal of his decision to forgo further review after an earlier inquiry by the system reached mixed conclusions.

The system found that applicants recommended by legislators were accepted to the School of Law and undergraduate programs at much higher rates than their counterparts who didn’t get such backing. But the system also found no “evidence of a quid pro quo for admissions decisions, or other wrongdoing.”

Questions about undue influence on admissions were first raised by Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr., who was inadvertently given confidential emails concerning some students. Hall’s handling of such emails and other actions prompted the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to admonish and censure him last month.

Hall is also the focus of a criminal investigation by the Travis County district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, which plans to present matters to a grand jury soon. Hall and his defenders say he has simply been exercising his oversight duties as a member of the governing board.

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