Hot Water

UT president abused power and admitted underperforming students, according to new report

UT prez abused power, admitted underperforming students says report

Austin Photo Set: News_Jennifer Walden_ Austin Medical School_September 2011_UT tower
UT President Bill Powers is under fire after a new report investigated allegations of coercion. Courtesy photo

A new report released on February 12 says University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers and other high-level UT officials exerted their influence to get underperforming — but highly connected — students admission to the prestigious school.

The independent report by Kroll, Inc. was commissioned in August 2014 to investigate allegations brought forth by a former employee of UT's Office of Admissions. 

 "In every case, I acted in what I believed was the best interest of the University," said President Bill Powers. 

Says the report, "In June 2014 ... new information was presented to the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor and the General Counsel by a former Admissions official alleging that the Office of the President had at times exerted pressure on the Office of Admission to admit some applicants of lesser qualifications in response to external influences."

Using interviews, applications and other data, Kroll cites 73 instances of possible coercion among undergraduate admissions, and provides anecdotal evidence for a small number of UT Law School applicants as well. Kroll also investigated the admissions practices for McCombs School of Business, but says it found "no evidence of any quid-pro-quo or other inappropriate consideration in admissions decisions."

During the investigation, Kroll requested files for the 73 undergraduate applicants that were determined to fall below the top tier university's rigorous admission standards. (However, Kroll was only available to review 72 as one of the files contained no information.) The applicants were admitted between fall 2009 and fall 2014. 

In an interview for the report, Powers said he admitted feeling pressure from donors, alumni and legislators to increase class size and admit well-connected students despite their lack of academic achievement. 

Powers, who admitted to intervening on behalf of the students, has taken to his Tower Talk blog to address the Kroll report. "In every case, I acted in what I believed was the best interest of the University," he writes. "Our admissions practices are fully consistent with all established laws, rules and policies." He also notes that the 73 applicants average out to less than one per 1,000 admitted students.

After reviewing the study, UT System Chancellor William McRaven said he would not take disciplinary action. 

Both Kroll and UT say all parties were fully cooperative during the independent study. Powers tenure as UT president will end in June. The UT Board of Regents is expected to name his replacement in the coming weeks.