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What if Wallace Hall, the Crazy Bad UT Regent, Isn't? Crazy or Bad?

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Whoa. Wait up. Take five. Let's take another look at that Wallace Hall narrative. He's the University of Texas regent from Dallas who is supposed to be a crazy, nuts, Tea Party, Rick-Perry-buddy, off-the-wall, Neanderthal education-hater who needs to be impeached, criminally prosecuted and generally expunged.

OK. But what if he's not?

Jon Cassidy, a former newspaper reporter who works in Austin for the conservative advocacy group Watchdog.org, has compiled what appears at least on the surface to be compelling evidence that Hall may have had a good case to make all along. UT officials have always claimed Hall's aggressive inquiries into admissions policy at UT have amounted to a super-expensive lunatic witch-hunt. But Cassidy has compiled a name-naming list of instances in which legislators and wealthy donors have been able to shoe-horn unqualified candidates into UT law School.

Here's the thing. Maybe you're not shocked that people with clout can help a kid get into law school. But this is UT law school. This is a place everybody has always assumed is harder to get into than that famous eye-of-the-needle place in the Bible.

Look, I read anything from Watchdog with huge skepticism. They're a division of The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, an outfit so far to the right I can't even see it from where I stand, which I guess could be less a comment on them than on where I stand. Maybe. I could get myself into more of a dudgeon about outfits like this posturing themselves as "news bureaus" if my own industry were not slashing state and Washington capitol bureaus left and right. Leave a vacuum, somebody's got to rush in.

I'm not totally sold yet, but so far Cassidy's work reads to me as solid, diligent, hard-probing to the bone. And here's a basic bottom line on it: The UT system conducted its own investigation of Hall's accusations and Cassidy's reporting. First, they found that specific allegations brought forward by Hall as a regent and by Cassidy at Watchdog were valid.

The university looked at cases in which students with low test scores got into UT Law School anyway after key legislators wrote letters saying basically that they knew the student and wanted him or her admitted, bad scores be damned.

The university's own report says: "Given ... the fact that some interviewees indicated that influential recommendations outside the prescribed process do occasionally impact admissions decisions, it is not unreasonable to conclude that these letters of recommendation influenced the admissions decisions for some or all of these applicants."

But it also said, "The inquiry did not uncover any evidence of a systematic, structured, or centralized process of reviewing and admitting applicants recommended by influential individuals."

Oh yeah? Let's say they had discovered just that. What would it have looked like? Maybe a building with Doric columns and a name carved in stone, "Hall of Nudge-Nudge Wink-Wink?" Of course people seeking to skirt the admissions rules would not operate from a systematic structured centralized process. Neither do pickpockets.

The university, in the end, came to two mutually contradictory conclusions, based on a small sampling of admissions. The first was that many of the allegations of favoritism were probably on target. The second conclusion was that there was no need for any broader or deeper investigation that might unearth larger patterns of corruption or personal culpability on anybody's part. Instead the university indicated it would do a general in-house tidy-up of admissions procedures, after which everything would be fine.

Oh yeah, and meanwhile, let's impeach and indict Hall, who, with Cassidy, provided the only reason anybody ever found out a single breath of any of this in the first place.

The official UT line on all of this was published here in Dallas on June 1 by The Dallas Morning News in an op-ed opinion piece by Charles Matthews, former president of Exxon-Mobil and outgoing president of the main UT alumni organization. Matthew's piece was titled, "Setting Record Straight on UT Admissions-Regent Controversy."

I remember reading it and thinking, "Wait, what record?"

Today, four days later, the News publishes an op-ed piece by Cassidy explaining his research and laying out specific name-naming allegations of instances in which he claims UT Law School admitted people who weren't smart enough to be there. I assume Cassidy got the News to publish his piece after Matthews' piece was already in print on the argument that it's not fair to knock me down when you never allowed me to stand up in the first place. I'm not going to reproduce the name-naming here, because I haven't put my own eyes on the paper trail yet.

But this much I can see with my own eyes. In his preemptive knock-down piece, Matthews says Hall's inquiry into admissions policy and the attendant publicity are "a disservice to the exemplary students at UT and to the reputation of a nationally recognized law school."

Look, that's what they always say, and it's a magic show trick. It's what they said when the Halliburton got caught war profiteering in Iraq: Why publicize problems instead of talking about what's going right? That's always a false dichotomy.

I love UT (tell you about it later), and I have huge respect for it as an academic institution. I doubt me and anybody from the Franklin Center could get through dinner at the same table and still be civil. But the fact is that Cassidy at Watchdog and Hall as a regent make a case that cannot and should not be dismissed on what are basically loyalty-oath grounds. If we're loyal to UT (I am), then we should want to see this allegation of infection probed to the bone, not bandaged over and perfumed.

This may be about much more than law school admissions. Hall and Cassidy are taking knives to the whole good-old-boy structure in Austin, and, believe me, that's centralized and structured as hell. Please take note of the very centralized and structured nature of the reaction against them. It's why I say we do a full stop and listen to this whole Wallace Hall narrative fresh from the top again. All ears.

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