Money, Politics Influenced UT Austin College Admissions

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President Bill Powers of the University of Texas at Austin has been found to have overridden the Admissions office on certain occasions. Most of these cases were at the request of state legislators, UT System Board of Regents members, donors, alumni, and other prominent people.

Some applicants, for the sake of money and politics, had their rejections vetoed by the university’s President despite being academically unqualified. From 2009 to 2014, 73 applicants were admitted despite a combined SAT score of less than 1100 and a high school GPA lower than 2.9. Powers admits that this is true, but says that no one else was declined as a result and that spots were just added for these additional students.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the matter was brought to public attention by regent Wallace Hall, who was censured last year by a Texas House committee and is now the subject of a criminal investigation for releasing student information that violated privacy laws. The audit of UT at Austin was conducted by the consulting firm Kroll Associates Inc., writes Benjamin Wermund.

According to Katey Psencik, the report by Kroll asserted that  “…email correspondence reviewed by Kroll confirmed that a relationship with university officials has on occasion provided applicants a ‘competitive boost’ in the admissions process.” The Chancellor of the UT system, William McRaven, says that the report is absent of “willful misconduct” or criminal activity (as the state bars legacy admissions), and therefore does not intend to take disciplinary action. He says:

“Now, can we do things better? You bet. Should we have been more transparent? Absolutely. Were there problems on both sides, between Austin and others? Yes. Are we going to get this fixed. No doubt about it. We are going to get it fixed.”

The release of this information shows that Powers and his chief of staff purposely misled a previous inquiry, by failing to mention pertinent details, notes Ralph K. M. Haurwitz. The report describes a system by which Powers could put a “hold” on the applications of certain students at the request of influential people, requiring Admissions to notify Powers before sending a rejection. Powers would veto the Admissions decision and allowing these unqualified students to be admitted to the college.

The original report by UT system officials said that there was no evidence of “a quid pro quo for admissions decisions, or other wrongdoing,” nor “overt pressure on admissions officials” by Powers or other faculty. The Kroll report says:

“Although President Powers and his Chief of Staff appear to have answered the specific questions asked of them with technical precision, it appears that by their material omissions they misled the inquiry. At minimum, each failed to speak with the candor and forthrightness expected of people in their respective positions of trust and leadership.”

It seems that Wallace Hall was following recommendations by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Anne Neal, the organization’s president, stated:

“Trustees should take a more active role in reviewing and benchmarking the work of faculty and administrators and monitoring outcomes. … They must not be intermittent or passive fiduciaries of a billion-dollar industry critical to the preparation of America’s next leaders.”