When Cronyism Met Political Correctness at the University of Texas

As an alumnus of the University of Texas Law School and the father of a recent UT graduate, I pay close attention to what is going on at my alma mater. Sadly, I have witnessed at UT many of the ailments afflicting higher education generally: rising tuition, declining academic performance, bloated administrative bureaucracy, curricula infected with identity politics, officious “diversity” enforcers who abuse their authority, and a climate of political correctness that overreacts to every passing fad.

At the same time, Texas politics have a sordid tradition of cronyism and, as the flagship of the state’s public university system, UT is no exception.

Money talks, sometimes quite loudly. UT has long been regarded as a prized fiefdom for the benefit of a powerful clique of wealthy donors and influential legislators who enjoy perks, such as invitations to watch football games from the UT President’s exclusive suite and preferential admissions to UT for their unqualified offspring. In the Lone Star State, the ultimate status symbol for Brahmins is membership in the UT inner circle.

When former governor Rick Perry attempted—unsuccessfully—to implement higher education reform a few years ago which would have disrupted the cozy status quo, he was met with furious resistance. The UT crony crowd circled the wagons and repulsed the reforms. One of Perry’s appointees to the UT Board of Regents, Dallas businessman Wallace Hall, barely escaped impeachment and prosecution (on trumped-up charges) for exposing a back-door admissions scandal that led to the resignation of UT’s president, Bill Powers. (For details, see my American Thinker article).

This combination of cronyism and politically correct hijinks has created a sinister brew.

UT, like almost all universities, investigates allegations of sexual assault on campus using Department of Education procedures that George Mason University law professor David Bernstein has described as “kangaroo-ish” in nature. This is not entirely UT’s fault. Under President Obama, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights weaponized Title IX—the 1972 law intended simply to prohibit sex discrimination by universities receiving federal funding—to force schools to adopt student disciplinary codes denying due process to students accused of sexual misconduct.

That was the setting when two UT sophomores went on a date in the spring of 2016. (The account that follows is based on press reports of the subsequent litigation). A woman (referred to only as “Jane Roe”) invited a man (“John Doe”) to her sorority’s afternoon boat party on Lake Austin, which was to be followed by a sorority formal that evening. While the couple attended the boat party, Roe consumed five glasses of sangria.

After the boat party ended, the couple attended the formal for about 90 minutes before returning to her sorority’s house so Roe could check in and get something to eat. Then the couple walked to Doe’s apartment where Roe agreed to have sex with Doe. It had been four hours since her last drink. Roe spent the night with Doe in his apartment.

If the story ended here, it would be just another casual hook-up between consenting college students after some partying—a common occurrence on campuses across the country.  But it didn’t end there.

A few days later, Roe decided that she had actually been too intoxicated to make a good decision about whether she wanted to have sex with Doe that night. So she filed a sexual assault charge against Doe under UT’s policy. Because she was drunk, she claimed, Doe had raped her. In due course, her claim was investigated and presented to a hearing officer, in this case a UT chemistry lecturer.

In February 2017, the hearing officer ruled in favor of Doe, concluding that Roe, while intoxicated, was not incapacitated. Rather, the hearing officer found, “the complainant made rational decisions throughout much of the evening prior to and after the sexual intercourse.”  As a result of that finding, Doe was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Again, if the story ended here, it would be just another baseless accusation by a confused (or regretful, or scorned) young woman who had second thoughts about a hasty tryst, foiled by a fair and neutral adjudicatory process. But it didn’t end there.

Under UT policy the hearing officer’s decision is not final but is subject to review by UT president Greg Fenves, who, as I explain here, has been pushing “progressive” themes ever since becoming UT’s president in 2015.

As it turns out, Roe’s father is a significant donor to UT who holds one of the many “advisory” roles coveted by UT cronies.

As it turns out, Roe’s father is a significant donor to UT who holds one of the many “advisory” roles coveted by UT cronies. The denouement was predictable: In April 2017 Fenves overturned the hearing officer. He ignored the relevant definition for “incapacitation,” and determined (contrary to the evidence) that Roe was “highly intoxicated” at the time she agreed to have sex. Fenves decreed that Doe must suffer a five-semester suspension.

Doe was declared a rapist by Fenves’ unilateral whim.

An almost inevitable lawsuit was filed a few months later, with Doe challenging his suspension as a violation of due process and tainted by a conflict of interest. Roe’s wealthy father, the suit alleged, had improperly influenced Fenves to rig the outcome in his daughter’s favor.

Doe’s attorney, Brian Roark, stated that Fenves “allows advocacy to leak into what should be neutral decision-making.” That observation is right on target.

The publicity generated by the case, which gained national attention, put Fenves and UT in a very unflattering light.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending—for Doe.

As a result of the lawsuit, Fenves was scheduled to testify under oath in federal court in late November. The proceedings up to then had been conducted in relative secrecy, but that was about to change. That’s because in court Roark would be able to examine Fenves about his highly-suspect decision on the record, with the attendant public scrutiny and media coverage. Not surprisingly, neither Fenves nor UT wanted to reveal the details of this squalid tale.

To avoid that, just before Fenves was due to testify, UT announced that it had “settled” the lawsuit, reinstating Doe, rescinding his suspension, and clearing him of any wrongdoing. Fenves would therefore not have to take the stand.

The incident was a damning indictment of the cronyism at UT and the leftist inclinations of its president. The last-minute settlement earned Fenves the ignominious headline, “UT president caves rather than tell judge why he personally overturned student’s exoneration.”

Justice Louis Brandeis famously said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and this case shows that the fetid backrooms of UT administration could sorely stand to be disinfected.

  • Margaret Little

    A balanced, thoughtful and comprehensive essay that has the courage to tackle the many forces at play in this volatile arena.

    • Mark Pulliam

      Thank you, Peggy!

    • DrOfnothing

      There’s nothing “balanced” about it. It’s simply feeding peoples biases back to them, with a modicum of misrepresented “evidence.”

  • Rob Jenkind

    One of the better pieces I’ve read on this site. Thanks, Mark, for exposing all of this to a little more sunlight.

  • Rob Jenkins

    Sorry—mistyped my own name.

  • Gregory Smith

    excellent article but surprised you neglected to mention UT’s insanely biased sexual assault guidelines for law enforcement.

    • Mark Pulliam

      I have written about PC at UT elsewhere, including City Journal, American Greatness, and The American Spectator.

  • sdharms

    Having a PhD from UT in Chem. I would like to know the name of the courageous and honest Chem Prof who did the first exoneration.

    • JVW

      I note that it was a lecturer, not a professor. No academic would be granted tenure these days unless the rest of the faculty was convinced that he or she was fully on-board with and 100% committed to the social justice agenda. A tenured faculty member would have found John Doe guilty without needing to do any real investigating.

  • Andrew X

    I would hope that a fat, juicy, painfully written check was also handed to Mr. Doe, as without that, this $#!t will never end. But it doesn’t sound like it.

    If Mr. Doe did not dig in his heels and demand a serious payout, he has done us a disservice, although I would not go beyond mildly irritated, as I am not in his shoes.

    But these people need to hurt, and hurt bad. Starting yesterday.

  • GlobalTrvlr

    Where is William McRaven in all of this? I would have hoped he would be cleaning this crap up by now

  • Norbert G. Buttguster, Jr.

    Is McRaven any better in matters like this? Perhaps he should “Make His Bed,” also, instead of messing in it.

  • Robert Burke

    The answer is to defund Prog (1984) Ed in Texas. Problem solved… all problems solved.

  • Steve

    The cropping job on the photo led me to think the article involved Bubba Clinton’s library.

  • Wayworn Wanderer

    Idiots at TU. They get what they deserve.

    • DrOfnothing

      TU is, presumably Tulane University. The school in question is either Texas, UT-Austin, or University of Texas. If you are going to share your opinions about an institution with which you seem completely unfamiliar, at least get the name of the place right.

      • Wayworn Wanderer

        Guess again, moron. TU is most definitely the University of Texas. Ask any Aggie.

        • DrOfnothing

          You’re right, only an A&M graduate would use that one. At least they get the letters right (that’s a gentle dig, don’t go ballistic).

  • elHombre

    The minions of the left and their stupid, amoral dupes continue to indulge themselves on college campuses, frequently settling lawsuits at public expense.

  • DrOfnothing

    This is just hilarious. Texas is one of the most GOP-gerrymandered states in the country, it’s politicians are completely in bed with the petroleum industry, its former governor (now Sec’y of Energy) is a shill for Big Oil, it’s full of absolute lunatics (such as the informal “border militia”), and yet this is the one issue that the author decided to uphold as an example of corruption and cronyism? And Wallace Hall was put in place not by Rick Perry to “reform” the UT BOR, but as part of an ongoing ideological battle between Perry and the UT Regents. Hall was meant to be a “mole,” and he failed, since he’s just as incompetent and ineffective as Perry is.

    Also, UT is not “declining.” It is one of the best public universities in the country, and in the top 100 universities in the world. Its in-state tuition and fees, $10,136, makes it an absolute bargain. And tuition has remained low largely because it is well-managed financially and has fought successfully to preserve its resources despite repeated assaults by Perry and other GOP hacks. Do the big donors get special privileges? Heck yes. Name an institution where that isn’t the case. You have to love how, in the warped, counter-factual world of the JMC, the best public universities in the country (UNC-CH, UT, etc.) are all “failing,” while the least-regarded and most widely-disparaged (online universities, for-profit colleges, Christian institutions) are all marvels of success.

    For a graduate of its Law school, the author shows remarkable disregard for the evidence!

    • Mark Pulliam

      In typical fashion, the UT shill trolling this site offers no substantive rebuttal, just ad hominem attacks. Stick to Alcalde and other self-serving boosterism.

      • DrOfnothing

        There is nothing ad hominem in my post. And I see you offer no response to the obvious inaccuracies of your statements on tuition and the university’s overall performance.

        Nice attempt at misdirection, counsellor, but that dog won’t hunt.

  • Richard_Reed

    Life lesson learned: Don’t sent your children or grandchildren to the University of Texas. Send them to Hillsdale College or Houston Baptist University or even Texas A & M, which at least has a conservative student body.

    • DrOfnothing

      Don’t worry, with that attitude, it is highly unlikely that your children or grand-children will qualify for admission to UT-Austin. The secret to happiness in life is low expectations.

      MADA (Make America Dumb Again)!