NYT has the news. I find some of these revelations extraordinary:
The University of Texas announced today that it had fired the director of financial aid at its Austin campus for improper conduct, saying that he had more ties to a student loan company than were previously known and had begun recommending the lender to students a few months after he purchased stock in its parent company.
The university announced the dismissal of the director, Lawrence W. Burt, who had been on paid leave since April, as it released a 33-page report with more than 100 pages of exhibits prepared by its general counsel. The report provides the most detailed public documentation yet of how lenders sought favor inside a university, and of how one financial aid office responded.
The report described a university financial aid office that was oblivious to conflicts of interest but that kept meticulous track of “lender treats” like ice cream, happy hours and birthday cakes that apparently were considered in deciding whether to put loan companies on lists recommended to students.
The report found that Student Loan Xpress, the company with which Dr. Burt had financial dealings, had the No. 1 spot on the university’s preferred lender list for four out of five years since 2001, even though no employee of the aid office “was able to articulate a compelling case” for that decision. Its customer services to students, for example, were often rated as “average,” while its “visibility” — “based on number of lunches, breakfasts and extracurricular functions” for financial aid staff — was “very good.”
The report found documents showing how lenders sought access to students through gifts to university officials. Just last February, Tom Ramaeker of Access Group, another lender, sent an e-mail message to a financial aid officer to find out whether his company “made the cut” for the 2007-08 preferred lender list. He went on to offer to take Dr. Burt and a subordinate to play golf. …
It found that Dr. Burt sent an e-mail message to a company representative telling him how he wore a loan company shirt while giving an interview with Fox News. “I did a billboard for you,” Dr. Burt wrote. The loan company official responded by asking about football tickets to a coming university game. He added that he was willing to pay for Dr. Burt’s football tickets to a game and that Dr. Burt could stay at his house.