UT: Impeachment report full of hypocrisy and deception

Rusty Hardin is doing some of the same things he accuses Wallace Hall of doing.

By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org

HOUSTON – Wallace Hall’s “unreasonably burdensome, wasteful, and intrusive requests for information” caused the University of Texas to produce around 100,000 pages, at the cost of multiple toner cartridges, and for this he is facing impeachment and public accusations of criminal conduct.

Rusty Hardin needed 150,000 pages of record production to be able to denounce Hall in those terms, and he’s going to get about a million dollars.

The problem, Hardin says, is that you can’t have “vindictive,” “bullying,” “blustery,” “myopic,” “mean-spirited,” “intense” and “malignant” people demanding public records in an “incessant search for things and people to criticize.”

Of course, he admits his own search veered from “investigating three finite questions” into a broad examination of “additional areas” for anything that might be used against Hall.

And I do mean anything. For example, Hall asked the university system for copies of some records that Hardin got. Hardin thinks this means Hall “deployed UT System resources for his personal gain.”

If you picture Hardin saying that with stacks of hundred dollar bills bulging out of his pockets, it’s even funnier. (Hardin hasn’t actually sent in a bill since December, despite the monthly invoices required by his contract, but he’s on pace for high six figures or more.)

Under any standard, this is hypocrisy. But let’s say that fishing expeditions are just fine. Poke around all you like. What matters is the fish you haul in.

Hall’s biggest fish is evidence lawmakers are using their clout to get favored candidates into UT, a scandal that goes so high that one doubts the Board of Regents has the courage to pursue it. A report is expected soon.

Hardin, on the other hand, found a lot of nothing.

“Hall’s most questionable actions,” he says, are these: “disclosing confidential student information, pressuring Committee witnesses to change their testimony, and burdening UT Austin with impossible document production demands.”

Hardin says those are his best shots. I think, if you’ve ever met a pimp with carpal tunnel, that’s what he slaps like.

I can’t imagine actually caring about whose research used up the most toner cartridges, but since Hardin wants to impeach someone over it, I’m obligated to point out Hardin needed his own copies of everything, whereas almost all of the pages Hall asked to see were already produced, sitting in two file cabinets, according to Hardin’s own report. Hall had simply asked to see the records UT gathered in response to public information requests.

Now, Kevin Hegarty (Powers’ guy in charge of obstructing Hall), took the position the university’s highest authority didn’t have clearance to see those records, but undergrad work-study employees did, and would need to review and copy those files page by page before they could authorize their boss’ boss’ boss’ boss’ boss to see them.

Hall put up with these delays tactics for a bit, but eventually, one of lawyers in the chancellor’s office told Hegarty to shove it, grabbed the records, and made almost all of them available to Hall.

This is where the second charge comes in: Hall saw unscrubbed confidential records! What secrets, you might wonder, are in these confidential files? Names. Seriously — he saw some names.

This is Hardin’s contention: a federal education law called “FERPA protects personally identifiable student information … (which) is defined, in part, as: (1) the name of the student.”

Only FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, doesn’t. The term of art is “education records,” of the sort maintained in a central file, not emails, and not everything with a name on it. FERPA protects personally identifiable education records from public disclosure, not from school officials with a legitimate reason to see them.

The chancellor’s office already has thoroughly demolished Hardin’s argument — I just mean to highlight a bit of the absurdity and bad faith. The actual records Hall is accused of “leaking” to his defense attorney, if such a thing were possible, regard admitting the underqualified children of state legislators to UT.

The final serious accusation, so to speak, centers on Hall’s relationship with Hegarty. The problem, Hardin writes, is when “subordinates failed to comply” with Hall’s information requests, “Hall attempted to pressure these individuals to comply,” even when they didn’t want to.

“As the UT Austin custodian of records, Hegarty resisted Hall’s requests for information from October 2012 to present when he believed compliance threatened the integrity of the collection,” Hardin writes. Hegarty said he wanted to preserve the “integrity” of those records once the Legislature started investigating, and Hall might shuffle the pages or get coffee stains on them or something, so he simply “cancelled” records requests from Hall.

You’ll be stunned to learn Hegarty’s profound and sincere concern about shuffled pages didn’t get Hall to change his mind, and the attorney general didn’t find it convincing either.

The impeachment committee’s letter to Hegarty about preserving records “does not make the requested information confidential or otherwise except the requested information from disclosure under the Act,” the attorney general’s office told Hegarty in August. “Providing a requestor with copies of documents requested under the (Public Information) Act does not in any way impact the preservation of the produced documents.”

Yet Hegarty ignored the ruling. He still hasn’t produced the records in response to this nearly year-old request; I copycatted this request last summer, and still haven’t received one page from it.

This is the sort of insubordination and obstructionism that had a vice chancellor calling for Hegarty to be disciplined, yet when Hall reminded Cigarroa of the problematic behavior, Hardin calls it evidence of witness coercion.

Hegarty has been openly fighting Hall’s access to records for a year and a half, and when he went before the legislative committee and said his antagonist had required some 800,000 pages, it was obvious to any observer that he was serving up Exhibit A for the charge of undue burdensomeness or whatever.

The problem is that Hegarty may well have perjured himself; at the least, he hasn’t provided any evidence supporting that page count.

Cigarroa and Hall say the count is closer to 100,000, and while Hardin didn’t exactly accept that number, his own tally in the report doesn’t support more than around 150,000 pages.

University officials offered Hegarty a chance to correct his testimony, which he declined. This is the “pressure” Hardin cites as grounds for impeaching Hall.

Hardin levels plenty more accusations against Hall, ones that by his own admission are even less serious than these three.

The very first example Hardin offers of a law Hall broke is some boilerplate language in the Education Code that requires one to “preserve institutional independence” and “enhance the public image” of the schools and “nurture each institution.”

Hardin tries to turn those abstractions into actual violations one can commit. If you’ve never breast-fed a university, you might be guilty, too.

By the end of the report, the accusations grow awful fanciful. I was falling asleep by that point, but I’m pretty sure I saw something toward the back about Hall violating the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act of Scotland, or maybe it was the beard regulations in Leviticus.

Contact Jon Cassidy at jon@watchdog.org or @jpcassidy000. If you would like to send him documents or messages anonymously, download the Tor browser and go to our SecureDrop submission page: http://5bygo7e2rpnrh5vo.onion

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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