- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2015

DALLAS (AP) - State universities won’t have to release the letters they receive from top donors recommending applicants, according to an opinion issued by Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office.

Texas A&M; University cited the opinion in denying a request for three letters sent to the university president, The Dallas Morning News reported (https://bit.ly/1Myeg7C ) on Thursday.

Top officials at Texas A&M; and the University of Texas routinely receive letters from donors, politicians and high-profile alumni recommending applicants, a practice that has been criticized by some observers as cronyism.

Both universities have released recommendation letters in previous years. But the opinion issued by Paxton’s office in September was used by Texas A&M; to exclude letters entirely, not just redact them to protect the identities of students.

It cites a law changed earlier this year that includes university applicant’s information as part of the exemption for student records under the Texas Public Information Act.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat who helped write the change that was passed, said she didn’t think recommendation letters should be exempt from public release as long as redactions are made. The University of Texas released letters sent to its president that were published by the Morning News last week.

“Our office has been conversing with the AG’s office, and we’re going to be visiting to get some more clarity, because we obviously have two universities doing two different things,” Alvarado said.

Wallace Hall, a University of Texas System regent who has clashed with officials over admissions practices, said the letters were a potential example of “influence peddling.”

“Without verifiable accountability of admissions practices, questions of institutional integrity and lack of fairness will continue to echo throughout our state and the nation,” Hall said.

University officials have said a letter from a well-known alumnus or a politician isn’t enough to admit a student.

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com


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