President Austin Lane of Texas Southern University has been placed on leave amidst an investigation into the school’s admissions, opening another chapter of questions for the school that has had numerous financial problems in the past.
The action by the board of regents came two months after an internal audit found evidence of “improprieties” in admissions, and another employee was let go as a result.
Texas Southern regents said the investigation, which involves law enforcement, is continuing. A complaint alleging admissions malfeasance was investigated by the state, which closed its investigation in July, according to a letter signed by Mark Poehl, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s director of internal audit and compliance.
“We worked with [the TSU] Office of Internal Audit and Assurance. Their confidential report found no wrongdoing regarding the university’s admission practices during the fall 2017 and fall 2018 semesters,” Poehl’s letter said.
But the school, one of the largest historically black colleges in the country, has more problems. A financial audit conducted by the state comptroller’s office and released in September found numerous accounting and personnel deficiencies, including a failure to submit two contracts worth $830,000 to the state as required; mistakes in reported hiring information; and overall sloppy accounting. In one case, the shoddy bookkeeping resulted in the overpayment of a total of $82,640 in longevity pay to several employees, of which $76,000 came from state funds.
However, September meeting agendas for the board of regents show no discussion of those problems or the audit.
A story in the Houston Forward Times hints that the trouble at the school is part of a complex political squabble that includes rivalries among regents.
“…There are other things that the Houston Forward Times has learned that could show that Dr. Lane may have only been a temporary sacrificial lamb for the purposes of possible retaliatory activity and driven by a personal agenda,” the story says, noting disagreements on the board over whether it could lawfully put Lane on leave.
School spokesman Steve Scheffler declined to comment for this story.
Mismanagement problems at TSU date back more than a decade.
TSU’s former president, Priscilla Slade, pleaded no contest in 2007 to charges of misusing school funds and received a 10-year adjudicated sentence. Slade admitted inappropriately using school funds on personal items and projects and repaid $127,000 to the school.
Quintin Wiggins, the university’s chief financial officer, was convicted in the same case and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Gov. Rick Perry at the time called for the state to take over the college, then backed off after the head of the board of regents resigned. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges placed TSU on probation over the financial malfeasance through 2010.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].