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Monday, August 07, 2006

Lawmaker says the board shirked responsibility in the Slade affair

Along with the usual advice and good wishes for graduates, State Rep. Harold Dutton delivered some pointed criticism of Texas Southern University's Board of Regents during his keynote address at the school's summer commencement ceremony Saturday.

"You (regents) are directly responsible for the unsuccessful management and government of TSU," Dutton said in his speech, with the regents arrayed on the platform behind him.

In an interview later, Dutton, D-Houston, said he was referring to the "dark clouds" looming over TSU because of the regents' handling of the investigation, dismissal and subsequent indictment of former university president Priscilla Slade and their current dispute with the school's radio station.

TSU Board Chairman J. Paul Johnson declined to comment, saying through a spokeswoman that he felt it would be inappropriate.

Regents fired Slade in June after an internal audit showed she had spent nearly $650,000 of school money over seven years on personal purchases, including furnishing, decorating and landscape her newly constructed home.

Dutton, an alumnus of the university, said that although the controversy centered on Slade, he felt that the regents were just as much to blame because it is the board's responsibility to oversee TSU's fiscal management. He said the regents acted so poorly he considered them "co-conspirators."

"I don't think you just look to Priscilla Slade for the reason why, I think you have to look at all the board members," he said. "She may be in the spotlight, but I don't think she's the only one responsible for the mess we're in."

Dutton also criticized regents who he said are trying to restructure KTSU, the school's radio station.

"Why are board members attempting to direct the affairs of KTSU when KTSU remains unquestionably the black jewel of Wheeler Avenue?" he said in his speech, adding, "You have to pass the financial aid office before you get to KTSU's office. So why not fix the things that are broken at TSU."

He said that if the regents failed to meet their responsibilities, the Legislature could act to remove them. During a previous controversy in 1999, Rep. Garnett Colemen, D-Houston, introduced a bill to eliminate the TSU board of regents but withdrew it when the regents began to address scores of management problems.

"I don't think we can sit idly by ... ," Dutton said. "We simply can't go on and allow this same board to pick another president."


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