There is something wrong with Texas politics

Kevin Williamson:
Why do state universities have boards of trustees? In Texas, where the rather grandiose flagship university system styles its trustees “regents,” the governor appoints representatives to the universities’ governing boards in order to ensure that state resources are being stewarded responsibly. Governor Rick Perry has been more aggressive than most in seeking to reform his state’s higher-education system, from innovations such as his $10,000 degree challenge to such old-fashioned bugaboos as efficiency and institutional honesty. One of the regents he appointed, Dallas businessman Wallace Hall, pursued the latter energetically, and what he helped to uncover was disturbing: The dean of the law school resigned after it was revealed that he had received a $500,000 “forgivable loan” from the law-school foundation, without the university administration’s having been made aware of the extra compensation. And in a development sure to put a grimace on the face of any student or parent who has ever waited with anticipation to hear from a first-choice college or graduate school, Mr. Hall uncovered the fact that members of the Texas legislature were seeking and receiving favorable treatment for family members and political allies in admissions to the university’s prestigious law school.

Given the nature of these scandals — the improper use of political power — it was natural enough that impeachments and criminal investigations followed. What is unnatural — and inexplicable, and indefensible, and shameful — is the fact that it is Wallace Hall who is facing impeachment and possible charges.

Mr. Hall, as noted, was appointed by Governor Perry, and there is no overestimating the depth or intensity of the Texas higher-education establishment’s hatred for Rick Perry. (He himself seems rather fond of his alma mater, Texas A&M.) Perry’s dryland-farmer populism is not calculated to please deans of diversity or professors of grievance, but academia’s Perry hatred is more financial than cultural. The idea that a college degree, even a specialized one, could be delivered for $10,000 is anathema to the higher-education establishment, which views ever-soaring tuition as its own collective welfare entitlement. Texas’s ducal university presidents and (ye gods, but the titles!) chancellors are accustomed to doing as they please and to enjoying salaries and perks that would be the envy of many chief executives in the private sector — not only the medieval holdover of tenure, but such postmodern benefits as a comfy professorship for one’s spouse. The last thing they want is some trustee — some nobody appointed by the duly elected governor of the state to manage the resources of the people who fund the universities — poking his nose in what they consider their business rather than thestate’s business. Mr. Hall, a successful investor and oil-and-gas entrepreneur, is not an aspiring academic or politician, and he has little or nothing to gain from annoying the university’s administration — other than the satisfaction of doing the job that it is his duty to do.

The case against Mr. Hall consists mainly of adjectives: “vindictive,” “bullying,” “blustery,” “myopic,” “mean-spirited,” “intense,” “malignant.” The broad claim against him is that in the course of uncovering plain wrongdoing by university officials and Texas politicians of both parties, he used investigative techniques that amounted to harassment. Setting aside the question of whether people engaged in wrongdoing on the state’s dime should or should not be harassed — for the record, the latter seems preferable to me — the case against Mr. Hall is mainly that he asked for a great deal of information and that he was insufficiently deferential to the refined sensibilities of the august ladies and gentlemen whose proprietary treatment of the University of Texas is in question.
There is more.

There is an element in Texas that lashes out at those who challenge them.  I view the challenge to Hall's attempt to investigate events at UT as similar to the attempt to criminalize Gov. Perry's veto of a bill that benefited a DA that many though was unfit to continue in that job.  There is also an unseemly attack on a conservative blogger whose post discomforted  some of those in the legislature.  All of these attempts to use government to attack political adversaries is a danger to democracy.


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