by Jon Cassidy
Two regents of the University of Texas System pressed for the destruction of hundreds of thousands of records maintained by President Bill Powers’ office earlier this year.
The two regents — Steve Hicks and Bobby Stillwell — have been Powers’ strongest allies on the board. On May 21, they both asked Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to allow Powers to destroy “hundreds of thousands of emails,” as well as “written notes or sticky notes” his office had been saving for more than a year.
The request came at a low point for transparency at UT — nine days after a legislative committee voted there were unspecified grounds for the impeachment of Regent Wallace Hall, and seven days after board chairman Paul Foster called on Hall to resign to end the controversy.
On May 14, Cigarroa and Foster announced the UT System wouldn’t pursue questions of admissions corruption any further, despite a preliminary investigation that found it was a “widely common practice among legislators” to ask the university’s president to intercede for certain applicants, and that “it is not unreasonable to conclude that these letters of recommendation influenced the admissions decisions for some or all of these applicants.”
A month later, after further evidence of admissions favoritism came to light, Cigarroa reversed course and ordered a complete investigation of admissions practices, then demanded Powers’ resignation.
But on May 21, when Hicks and Stillwell made their request, it looked like their side had won. So Hicks wrote Cigarroa, requesting “that the data hold that was placed on UT Austin in March of 2013 be removed…. as soon as possible.”
At Hall’s request, Cigarroa had ordered Powers to maintain his office’s records, particularly emails that would typically be deleted after a few months. Since that hold hadn’t required formal board action, Hicks and Stillwell asked that Cigarroa simply change the policy under his own authority.
It’s not known publicly whether Cigarroa took any action on the request. The board’s general counsel, Francie Frederick, asked Cigarroa on June 19 whether he did anything in response to the request, but Cigarroa hasn’t responded.