AUSTIN, Texas — A “select handful” of University of Texas applicants are approved each year at the direction of the school president over the objections of the admissions office, a longtime practice that has grown in recent years, according to details of an investigation commissioned by the school’s Board of Regents and released Thursday.
The investigation into influence peddling in admissions at the University of Texas System’s flagship campus found applicants approved by outgoing President Bill Powers typically were recommended by state lawmakers, university donors, alumni and at times by regents themselves.
The report found “no evidence” applicants were admitted as a result of inappropriate promises or exchanges and said the practice doesn’t violate the law. Powers told investigators his decisions regarding admissions always were made with the “best interests of the university” in mind, according to the report.
But the report criticized Powers and his staff as misleading earlier investigations by failing to disclose the existence of “watch lists” and high-level meetings concerning applicants. And it said the practice has caused “increasing tension” between the president and admissions staff.
The question of influence peddling in general admissions to the university, as well as to the law and business schools, was a key factor in years of tension between Powers, several regents and state lawmakers. Powers was pressured last year to resign and he leaves office in June.
“I inherited this process,” which was well known by lawmakers, former chancellors and regents, Powers said in a statement after the report was issued.
“It is my observation that some similar process exists at virtually every selective university in America, and it does so because it serves the best interests of the institutions,” Powers said.
Powers also noted the report cited 73 applicants who normally would not have been admitted, a rate of fewer than one in 1,000 over the time covered by the report. Powers has been school president since 2006.
Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster and new Chancellor William McRaven said they do not want to punish Powers or university employees.
“There are a lot of things we can do better,” McRaven said. “But I saw no willful misconduct, no criminal activity and I intend to take no disciplinary action.”
Regent Wallace Hall, Powers’ most vocal critic who had pushed for the investigation, declined to comment Thursday. Hall also has been the subject of a legislative and an ongoing criminal investigation into his efforts to force Powers out of his job.
Powers told investigators that letters or recommendations from lawmakers on behalf of applicants were afforded “more weight” because legislative oversight impacts the university. The report did not name specific lawmakers who tried to influence admissions for family, friends or constituents.
It also noted “several instances” when regents contacted the university on behalf of relatives.
In one instance, an unnamed regent asked for a meeting with the director of admissions while a relative’s appeal of a denial was pending. The regent said the request was unrelated to the pending appeal but system lawyers ultimately didn’t allow the meeting.
On another occasion, a regent asked Powers’ assistant Nancy Brazzil who an applicant would “need to talk with.”
Brazzil replied, “Don’t worry I’ll take care of it” and the applicant was admitted, the report said.
A university spokesman said Brazzil would not comment on the report.