Texas Southern regents refuse Gov's call to resign
Three Texas Southern University regents are refusing to relinquish their posts in the face of Gov. Rick Perry's call for their resignations from the troubled school's governing board.
The Rev. Robert Childress, David Diaz and Belinda Griffin had not submitted their resignations as of Wednesday, five days after Perry recommended replacing the board with a conservator "to reinstate accountability" and "to correct mismanagement" at the historically black university.
"I'm not going to resign because that would be an acknowledgment of doing something wrong," said Diaz, a Corpus Christi attorney appointed to the board by Perry in 2001 and reappointed four years later. "I haven't done anything wrong."
The standoff comes amid talks between the governor's office and the legislative Black Caucus about alternatives to the proposed conservatorship. Both sides emerged from a second day of closed-door discussions with no concrete plans.
Perry has said a financial czar could turn around TSU at a quicker pace than a board of regents. Under the plan, a conservator would be placed in charge of the university's spending, with the ability to fire any employee, hire new people and change the administrative structure.
Some lawmakers worry that the proposal would hurt enrollment and diminish the value of degrees earned at TSU.
What's more, the presence of a conservator could jeopardize TSU's accreditation, said Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting body for 780 colleges and universities in 11 Southern states.
Checks and balances
The accrediting body requires multi-member governing boards for colleges and universities. "It's a matter of checks and balances," Wheelan said. Without accreditation, the federal government would stop providing financial aid to students. Nearly two-thirds of TSU's 11,200 students receive Pell Grants, which are awarded to the poorest students, based on a formula assessing income and assets.
Raymund Paredes, the state's higher education commissioner, said TSU is at no more risk with a conservator than without because of the university's wide-ranging problems.
"TSU is vulnerable right now," Paredes said. "It's clear that the issues at the university have tripped a wire, and the accrediting agencies will be watching closely."
As an alternative to conservatorship, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat whose district includes the campus, has drafted a bill that would grant additional powers to an interim president. Those unspecified powers would be temporary, lasting only until a new board is acclimated.
"We're all in agreement about the fiscal concerns," Coleman said. "But we think the (governor's) method would do irreparable harm."
Perry's proposal follows a series a financial missteps and a spending scandal that led to criminal charges against former TSU President Priscilla Slade and three aides.
But his call for the regents to resign came as the board was making strong progress toward turning the university around, Diaz said. The board had fired Slade, reduced the work force amid a budget shortfall and proposed cuts in academic programs. "We've done a lot of good," he said. Childress and Griffin did not return messages. A fourth regent, Bill King, had not resigned but said he would not stand in the way of the governor's wishes.
"Clearly there is some need of dramatic, drastic action, but I kind of agree with the Black Caucus on conservatorship," King said. "We need to find a better solution."
Five vacancies on board
The regents, meanwhile, are planning to meet April 28 to discuss several issues, including whether to extend the contract of interim President J. Timothy Boddie Jr. The meeting had been scheduled for last Saturday, but the board could not get a quorum. The nine-member board has five vacancies. The terms of three regents expired in January, and attorney Harry Johnson Sr. and hospital administrator Earnest Gibson III recently resigned.
Coleman said he would not recommend that the remaining regents resign because "people should make the decision on their own time. But the time is near. It would be better if they resign so as not to harm the students."