By SHANNON NAJMABADI
The Texas Tribune
After placing Austin Lane, president of one of the country’s largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities, on administrative leave last week with no explanation, the Texas Southern University Board of Regents released a statement Jan. 17 that seemingly connects his removal with previously disclosed problems with the admissions process.
The board’s statement did not directly tie Lane to the alleged improprieties – for which one employee has already been fired – nor did it clearly state why Lane was placed on leave.
But the statement said regents told Lane in October that the board, along with the chief internal auditor and board counsel, had contacted local authorities after confirming admissions-related improprieties. The statement went on to say that the auditor, an investigator and legal counsel interviewed Lane and other university executives. Lane was questioned a second time by the auditor and a special board employment counsel.
Regents also met with the auditor, independent counsel and third-party investigators for about seven hours before placing Lane on leave Jan. 10.
“As the investigation continues, we urge everyone in our TSU community to comply with University policies and internal audit and litigation risk management protocols; and we will continue to cooperate with the independent investigations by law enforcement,” the statement read. “We thank the TSU community for its patience while we balance the competing interests of respect for ongoing internal investigations and external criminal investigations with the desire to provide additional context for our recent Board action.”
University officials have turned information about the admissions improprieties over to local authorities, and the board has launched a comprehensive review. Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Huewitt has served as acting president since Jan. 10.
Lane could not immediately be reached for comment. But he previously told Houston television station KPRC 2 that he hasn’t “done anything” and expects “to be reinstated immediately or paid out for the remainder of my contract for breach of contract.”
There have signs of possible strife between the board and university administrators for months.
At a meeting in October 2019, two regents suggested school officials were withholding information from the board or providing misleading figures.
“There have been instances where communication is sometimes slow, sometimes inappropriate and sometimes nonexistent,” Regent Hasan Mack said at the October meeting. “The material components of what is going on at the university on the ground is something that the board has a right to know, and if you stop us from doing our jobs, we’ll stop you from doing yours.”
Regent Wesley Terrell agreed.
“I do think that any time that we make requests for information, we should get them in a timely fashion, not after we’ve taken our votes and can’t necessarily do anything about it when material information has been omitted,” he said. “I, sometimes even afterwards having gotten additional information, thought the information provided to us was a bit misleading. Which that clearly should not happen.”
Regent Derrick Mitchell said regents should go through the president to get information from staff and cautioned the board against putting itself in a position where the university’s accrediting agency would look at them as micromanagers.
“We talk to him [the president] about whatever it is that you’re trying to get, and then we don’t have to have a rant in public about what you’re not getting or that you’re not happy about what staff’s not doing,” Mitchell said.
This article was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/01/17/texas-southern-university-regents-link-presidents-ouster-admissions/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.
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