HOUSTON — The governing body that oversees the Houston Community College System is seeking “to determine if there is evidence of significant accreditation related issues,” according to a letter obtained Tuesday by The Texas Monitor.
The letter is additional evidence of the increasing fallout that began this summer when HCC Trustee Chris Oliver’s guilty bribery plea was announced. Oliver, the longest-serving board member, admitted in court that he pocketed $12,000 from a major HCC vendor in a contract-steering scheme.
The letter, dated Dec. 11, is from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and sent to HCC. It raises questions “about the institution’s ongoing compliance with accreditation standards related to Board conflict of interest.”
The letter states it has some interest in both an internal investigation that the college system is conducting as well as an outside investigation paid for by Dave Wilson, one of HCC’s most outspoken trustees, and conducted by former long-time investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino.
The letter also suggests a larger interest with the institution, which has been troubled by conflicts of interest, long before Oliver’s bribery plea, as well as problems with some of the college’s programs, most recently with its Veteran Affairs program.
The findings of Dolcefino’s investigation so far have suggested conflicts of interest at the college, and he also filed a criminal complaint against a trustee alleged to live outside of her district.
The college must respond to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools by Jan. 22.
The association has a number of actions it can take, “including monitoring, sanction, or the appointment of a Special Committee to review the institution,” according to a message sent today to trustees by HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado.
A college spokeswoman declined comment late Tuesday.
Trustee President Eva Lorado did not return a call left for comment.
Some college trustees talking privately suggested that the letter was more likely a hand-out to help HCC, rather than a rattling saber.
Dolcefino said he welcomes a meeting with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools staff if they want one.
“Any investigator who wants to get to the bottom of the scandal plaguing HCC can call me for help anytime they want it,” he said. “I think HCC is in real trouble.”
Dolcefino said HCC should not point the finger at his investigation as the problem.
“We have given HCC a pathway to a more ethical place,” he said. “Not only do they not want to accept our advice, they’re mad at me for telling them the truth about what a giant cluster that place is. It’s an ethical cluster over there.”
The Houston Community College is one of the largest in the United States.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-658-6119.