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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tx. Southern gets off probation

Texas Southern University cleared a major hurdle in recruiting and fundraising last week when its accrediting body agreed to take the school off probation.

“It’s a big deal,” said President John Rudley, who took office in January 2008, one month after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed TSU on probation for a series of financial and management missteps.

The impact is mainly symbolic: Parents who were reluctant to send their children to TSU because its accreditation was in doubt now can feel secure, Rudley said.

“The value of our degrees has been affirmed,” he said.

Belle Wheelan, president of the association’s commission on colleges, said her board voted to lift the probation Thursday morning, two days after Rudley and a team of TSU administrators presented evidence of their progress.

Rudley announced the news to his school’s board of regents soon after.

Gregory Maddox, interim dean of the TSU graduate school and a member of the administrative team that worked to end the probation, said he never thought the school actually would lose accreditation.

“But it certainly has been bad for morale,” he said. “Now we can go about the business of being a university. We’re not under the burden of having to constantly prove what we’re doing.”

The biggest step came earlier this year, when auditors were able to complete their tally of the school’s financial position. That took almost two years — the first firm hired for the job gave up because the financial records from previous years were in such a mess.

The financial problems and shoddy recordkeeping were highlighted when Rudley’s predecessor, Priscilla Slade, was accused of spending $500,000 in school money on herself. She is on probation.

Rudley said the school would have an annual outside audit for the next five years to ensure its finances remain clear.
“We don’t ever want to get in that position again,” he said.

Now, he said, TSU can go about the business of being “a normal university.”

That doesn’t mean no problems. The TSU library is inadequate for a school of its size and ambition, but the Legislature didn’t approve a request for $46 million in tuition revenue bonds to build and furnish a new one. Only the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston was authorized to issue tuition revenue bonds, used for university construction, during the session that ended this month.

That will be TSU’s top priority when the next session begins in 2011, Rudley said.


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