Dan Sharphorn

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System will launch an external investigation into the University’s admissions process, according to System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo.

After the System released its findings from a limited investigation in May, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Dan Sharphorn, System vice chancellor and general counsel, determined a full investigation was needed because of questions raised about the admissions process by the public, LaCoste-Caputo said.

“There were some lingering questions and the chancellor felt a deeper investigation was needed,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

Cigarroa first announced the investigation in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Friday. An outside firm has not yet been selected.

The limited investigation, which looked at the influence of letters of recommendations from state legislators on the University’s admissions process, was conducted by Sharphorn and Wanda Mercer, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. According its report, the investigation found there was no structured system of favoritism or wrongdoing at the University, but found instances in which letters from legislators sent directly to President William Powers Jr. or a dean likely influenced the admissions process.

“With the undergraduate data, there is at least the strong appearance that the letters of recommendation from legislators, regardless of the strength of the substance of the recommendations, count more in admissions decisions than other letters of recommendations,” the report stated.

At a Board of Regents meeting in May, Cigarroa suggested ending the practice of allowing letters not submitted through the prescribed process to be considered in admissions decisions and said he would review System-wide admissions processes by meeting with institution presidents and admissions officials to develop new recommendations for change.

According to the report, Cigarroa authorized the initial investigation in July 2013 after Regent Wallace Hall brought up issues with the admissions process from two emails he received from one of his records request to the University.

Because of his large records requests to the University, Hall became the subject of a House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations investigation after state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority and working to remove Powers from office. In May, the committee determined grounds for his impeachment exist, and it is in the process of drafting specific impeachment articles.

One of the committee’s co-chairs, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said he supports the System’s investigation.

“That’s part of what [the transparency committee] suggested all along is that there need to be some procedural changes at the University, and I applaud them for going forward to delve into those procedures,” Flynn said.

Flynn said the committee could act if the investigation finds wrongdoing.

“If there’s something that’s inappropriate, it needs to be sought out,” Flynn said. “If after their probe they find something that’s inappropriate, then certainly it should be brought to attention.”

UT spokesman Gary Susswein declined to comment on the new investigation.

Faculty members are rallying against a new UT System disclosure policy that may diminish the University’s ability to recruit and retain professors, according to current Faculty Council members.

The Faculty Council will meet Monday to vote on a resolution objecting to UT System-wide Policy 180, also known as the “Conflict of Interest, Conflicts of Commitment and Outside Activities” policy. The policy would enact a litany of disclosure requirements for all University employees, including forcing faculty members to disclose any gifts they or their family members receive costing more than $250, among other requirements.

Though the policy was originally meant to be implemented Wednesday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced in April that implementation would be delayed until Sept. 1. The announcement came two days after a Faculty Council meeting during which faculty members expressed objections to the policy for more than an hour. 

“The chancellor heard from some of the faculty members and some of the presidents, who expressed concerns,” said Dan Sharphorn, associate vice chancellor and deputy general counsel for the System. “He decided to take another look at some of the elements of the policy to see if there’s a need for revision.”

One engineering professor, who requested to remain anonymous because his leave of absence request is still pending, said the policy is what convinced him to take a leave from the University, and he will see how the policy plays out before deciding to return.

“My decision isn’t entirely about UTS 180, but that really pushed me over the edge,” the professor said. “It absolutely encroaches on what people would normally consider time away from work. UT is an excellent school, but this doesn’t make any sense.” 

English professor Alan Friedman, a former Faculty Council chairman, said many other faculty members also have concerns. 

“This policy is intrusive,” Friedman said. “It violates academic freedom and privacy rights. There was no argument or rationale offered to why it was needed or what it was intended to accomplish. No study has been done to demonstrate that this will serve any purpose or do any good, and it has not been tried out elsewhere.”

Brian Evans, an electrical and computer engineering professor who created a web page expressing concerns with UTS 180, said he had similar objections.

“The biggest problem with UTS 180 is that it’s forcing faculty, staff and anybody on salary to make their private lives public,” Evans said. “That’s outrageous.” 

Among other provisions, the policy would require full-time faculty and staff to disclose the nature and extent of any outside employment or activity that “may reasonably appear to create a conflict of interest or a conflict of commitment,” even if the outside activities are uncompensated, including activities by immediate family members.

“When in doubt in determining whether an activity or interest should be disclosed, the individual should resolve the doubt in favor of disclosure,” the policy states. 

The policy also requires faculty and staff to obtain approval before engaging in the activities it mentions. 

Sharphorn said he acknowledged certain faculty members have concerns but did not say whether he thinks they were legitimate.

“I understand why certain faculty members are concerned, but I don’t know if I’m willing to say whether those concerns are valid or not,” Sharphorn said. “There are many faculty members who don’t have objection to [UTS 180].” 

Sharphorn said public research often includes extensive disclosure requirements, though he said he isn’t aware of any universities that have policies similar to the proposed UTS 180.

“It’s gotten to be pretty common that public employees involved in public research don’t have a lot of privacy,” Sharphorn said. “This just expands those disclosure policies in a couple of ways.”