Was the controversial and shocking decision by the Texas Southern University (TSU) Board of Regents to place current TSU President Dr. Austin A. Lane on administrative leave with pay a justifiable move or is there seriously something more nefarious behind the recent actions of the majority of the TSU Board of Regents that need further explanation?
Many in the community found themselves scratching their heads in disbelief this past Friday, January 10th, after news that the TSU Board of Regents had made the decision to place Dr. Lane on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation by the audit committee. A video of the meeting, which was held at the Houstonian Hotel, shows the audit committee make the recommendation. TSU Board Chair, Hasan K. Mack, then called for a motion and a second, but not before Regent Derrick Mitchell expressed his disappointment with the surprise decision before the official vote was cast. Per the video, it appears Regent Mitchell was the lone vote against the move, while it was noted that Regent Ron J. Price abstained from the vote.
The Board made the decision without providing any facts, justification or details about what Dr. Lane could have possibly done to justify being temporarily stripped of his power as president, while an investigation, that has allegedly been going on for several months, continues.
Again, no facts or details have been given by the Board, but they did release a statement, saying:
“The Board is committed to ensuring all activities at the University are conducted in an ethical and transparent manner in accordance with the University’s mission, vision and values. The University will have no further comment at this time.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Lane has hired legal representation to look into whether the TSU Board of Regents are in breach of contract. He has gone on the record as stating that he has done nothing wrong and is demanding that he be reinstated to his presidential post immediately or be paid out for the remainder of the recent three-year contract he was just given by the Board.
The University and the TSU Board of Regents may find itself in some serious hot water after making yet another surprise move shortly after voting to place Dr. Lane on administrative leave.
While the members of the TSU Board of Regents aren’t talking or giving any specific details about what they may be investigating, there are other things that the Houston Forward Times has learned that could show that Dr. Lane may have only been a temporary sacrificial lamb for the purposes of possible retaliatory activity and driven by a personal agenda. Was Dr. Lane the real target that the TSU Board of Regents was gunning after or was it members of his staff?
On January 10th, the TSU Board of Regents also voted to make TSU Chief Financial Officer, Kenneth Huewitt the Acting President. And what was one of the first official acts that representatives from the TSU Board of Regents instructed Huewitt to carry out? According to sources, Huewitt was instructed to fire Wendell Williams, who served as the Special Assistant to the President at the University.
What is disturbing about this is, according to sources, is that Williams had filed two grievances for harassment against TSU Regent Wesley G. Terrell. These grievances were allegedly sent to the Board Chair, Board Counsel, the internal auditor, and directly to Regent Terrell. The internal auditor allegedly sent Williams a letter on January 7th informing him that he would be given a response to his complaint. However, instead of receiving that response, Williams was fired on January 10th, only three days after receiving the letter from the internal auditor.
This could pose huge issues for the University, if somehow it is proven through a court of law that Williams was fired due to retaliation and before having his grievances addressed.
What stands out about his issue even more are the discussions had at the October 25th TSU Board of Regents meeting, where the Board Chair, Regent Terrell, Regent Price and Regent Mitchell, had some serious back and forth discussions about staff that directly report to Dr. Lane.
At one point in the video, Regent Mitchell admonishes his colleagues to focus on their role of policy-making and oversight. He says that they shouldn’t put themselves in a position to be looked at as “micro-managers” by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which could impact their accredidation. Regent Mitchell then tells them that all requests and direction should go through the President of the University.
Regent Terrell chimes in to express his disagreement with Regent Mitchell claiming that the Board of Regents has the power to terminate any employee at the University as long as it is the will of the board. Regent Mitchell, in response, tells Regent Terrell that he is wrong and lets him know that he “gets paid really well” to know that the Board of Regents do not have the power to fire anyone other than the President and that they should focus on going through the President.
Interestingly, in the same video from October 25th, when discussing the inability to receive certain information from staff, the Board Chair said, “If you stop us from doing our job, we will stop you from doing yours,” referring to Dr. Lane’s staff members. In the same breath, the Board Chair also declared that Dr. Lane was “doing an outstanding job,” as well as Regent Price.
Speaking of Dr. Lane’s performance since becoming the twelfth president of the University in 2016, here are a few of his notable accomplishments:
TSU became 2nd largest Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in 2018
Graduation rates are up 7% in the past 5 years, which is the highest on record
TSU Maroon and Gray Gala, which was started by Dr. Lane and wife Loren Lane, has raised more than $2.5 million in student scholarships over the past 3 years
TSU Endowment has increased 25% in past five years
TSU Homecoming Game returned to TSU campus for first time in over 12 years
An additional $14 million in scholarship dollars has been awarded University-wide every year for the past three years
Moody’s financial rating was upgraded from Negative outlook to Stable to Positive
Clean Financial Audits with no findings for past five years
Alumni giving is up 40% and overall giving is up 25%
TSU was awarded $24 million for infrastructure improvements, which is the highest on record, which has provided exterior lighting, fencing and student housing
Hired University’s first female Police Chief and Law School Dean
Many believe that the actions of the TSU Board of Regents has harmed the reputation of the University, as well as put the University at risk of losing potential students who are considering TSU for enrollment, along with potential corporate partners and scholarship dollars; not to mention the fallout of a potential lawsuit from Wendell Williams, who may have a legitimate claim due to possibly being terminated wrongfully as a result of possible retaliation.
If the curious decision to get rid of Dr. Lane becomes a permanent action, it is safe to assume that the Maroon and Gray Gala, which raised over $1 million in student scholarships just last year alone, could be gone as well. And ask yourself, what does the TSU Board of Regents have in place to offset an event that raises important and much-needed scholarship dollars for deserving students?
There is so much more to be unpacked here and the Houston Forward Times is receiving more and more information and details every day. There may be more players involved as well. So stay tuned and be on the lookout for more information as it becomes available.