Chancellor candidate removed from last position following investigation

By Kallie Cox, News Editor

Updated 4/16 10:51: This story has been updated with statements from Dr. Austin Lane.

Updated 4/18

One of the three finalists for chancellor was removed from his last position as president of Texas Southern University about two months ago.

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Austin Lane was was removed amid allegations that he violated his contract by refusing to report or inform the Texas Southern Board of Regents of fraud allegations involving a former law school official on Feb. 4, in a 6-1 Board of Regents vote, according to the Houston Chronicle.

(See more: Houston Chronicle: Texas Southern President Dr. Austin Lane fired after heated board meeting.)

A whistleblower report to the university led to an investigation that found the law school had been accepting bribes in exchange for admission and scholarships.

“[Lane’s” actions relate in part to failure to report to the board information relating to improper payments for admissions to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law and for the improper awarding of scholarships to students, which led in part to the initiation of a comprehensive investigation,” according to a statement from the Board of Regents regarding the decision to terminate Lane’s employment.

The investigation also found attempts to conceal “excessive entertainment expenses” through a process inconsistent with Dr. Lane’s contract that would have prevented Board scrutiny of such expenses,  the Board said.

Lane’s letter of termination can be found here.

A report from the audit investigation can be found here.

An excerpt from a report from the chief audit executive at Texas Southern University is below:

To date, the CAE’s investigation, in conjunction with third-party investigators hired to investigate admissions and financial aid improprieties within the law school, has been able to confirm many of the Whistleblower allegations. The Whistleblower letter, in part, alleges the following:

  • A law student paid $10,000 to cure character and fitness issues so that the student could sit for the Bar;
  • Many students had been admitted who did not meet the school’s GPA and LSAT requirements;
  • President did not report Former TMSL Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid’s criminal behavior to law enforcement;
  • A transfer student was improperly admitted to the law school and was later dismissed by TMSL Dean. That student complained to President, and Provost who later enrolled the student in different graduate school program to gain his silence;
  • Students are frequently admitted to programs in violation of admission requirements at the direction of President or Provost;
  • Several students had failing grades changed, however Special Assistant to the President quashed the investigation and the students were not disciplined;
  • Reported enrollment numbers are often inflated and do not reflect accurate numbers after students are dropped for nonpayment;
  • To avoid sending contracts over $100,000 to the TSU BOR for approval, President often has such contracts signed by the TSU Foundation, and there is no accounting of expenses and net funds actually raised for scholarships;
  • Scholarships are often given to students with GPAs below 2.0 to inflate enrollment numbers; 
  • A $3,000,000 trust donated to be used by the School of the Pharmacy has not been used for such purposes, but instead was used to purchase the Tiger House.

According to the report the following organizations are investigating, or were notified, about this issue: The FBI, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Office of the Inspector General, Department of Education, Scholastic Programs Division, Department of Education, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/Commission on Colleges, The American Bar Association, Texas State Auditor’s Office and The Texas Rangers/Texas Department of Public Safety.

After updates by the CAE and third-party investigators of their preliminary findings, the CAE and TSU BOR Counsel found Lane violated his contract by failing to promptly advise and fully report to the board about this matter and acting in a way that created a material adverse effect on the university, according to the report.

In an interview after the board meeting where he was removed Lane said he should not have been fired and that the investigation was “a witch hunt.” 

“Wow, this really is a witch hunt,” Lane said in the interview. “I have never been involved in my 25 plus years of working in higher education with a calculated witch hunt.” 

Lane said he has a record that speaks for itself and that he did nothing wrong. He said he knew nothing about the allegations that led to his removal and said he believed the Board did not follow due process.

(See more: Lane’s statement and rebuttal).

Lane said he was never terminated or removed from his position.

“I was given notice and invoked my right to mediate within the time frame and settled with a buyout that he proposed,” Lane said “My settlement included damages for pain and emotional suffering and a buyout for the remaining two years on my contract, per my request.”

After Lane appealed his removal he and the board came to an agreement that he should leave the university and the board settled with him allowing him to leave with no admission of wrongdoing.

Lane said the allegations listed are unfounded and none were directly against him.

“The employee in question reports to the dean of the law school,” Lane said. “The dean terminated the employee because of a response he gave an applicant related to his background, not because of fraud. The provost and I supported the dean of the Law School’s decision and the employee was terminated. Again, not because of fraud. The board was made aware of this. To date, there is still no evidence to support the allegations that were listed and the local authorities have never investigated this.”

There is currently an change.org petition circulating to re-instate Lane and as of publishing it had 9,689 signatures.

“I had a wonderful almost four years at Texas Southern working hand-in hand with the board that hired me three years ago, faculty, staff, students, alums, and the community,” Lane said. “Together, we accomplished great things and I look forward to talking with the SIUC community next week during my interview.”

Marc Morris, chair of the Chancellor Search Advisory Committee, said the candidates for chancellor were recommended by a search screening committee representing faculty, staff, students and others connected to SIU and the community.

Morris said the committee was aware of Lane’s background and the controversy he faced on his campus but that given his application materials, preliminary interviews and leadership skills they decided to invite him to be interviewed.

“In Dr. Lane’s case, financial allegations concerned an employee who was terminated, not to Dr. Lane,” Morris said. “Further, Dr. Lane was not ultimately fired; he reached a mutual separation agreement with the institution. I should add that the firm assisting the university with the search conducted thorough background checks and referencing on all of the finalists.”

Morris said the goal throughout the search has been to identify outstanding candidates who can lead the university effectively and he believes that all three finalists have that potential.  

The chancellor search began in December 2019.

The other two candidates for chancellor are Kenneth Evans and Susan Stapleton.

Evans is the President of Lamar University in Texas and holds a Ph.D. in marketing. 

Stapleton is the special assistant to the provost at Western Michigan University. She holds a Ph.D in chemistry and was the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs 2017-18.

The two-day virtual interviews for the candidates are scheduled to begin on April 16 and the candidates will be hosting public forums on Zoom on the following dates:

Susan R. Stapleton, special assistant to the provost at Western Michigan University: April 17

Austin A. Lane, former president of Texas Southern University: April 21

Kenneth R. Evans, president of Lamar University: April 23

Students, faculty and staff at SIU can fill out confidential candidate surveys and find more information on the search  here.

The new chancellor will replace interim chancellor John Dunn. SIU system President Daniel Mahony said he hopes to have a new chancellor in place by July 1.

(See more: SIUC chancellor finalist Lane addresses controversy, departure from TSU.)

News Editor Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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