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Texas Southern University regents vote to fire school's president

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Texas Southern University, Feb. 22nd, 2012. Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

Texas Southern University regents moved to terminate President Austin Lane — who was abruptly suspended from his post in January — early Wednesday morning for failing to report allegations of fraud in the university admissions process and pressuring a former law school dean to “engage in acts that violate university policy,” among other contract violations.

A lengthy notice read after the regents emerged from a five-hour, closed-door meeting also said Lane “directed excessive entertainment expenses to be paid through the TSU foundation rather than the university expenses reimbursement process,” which requires board approval.

Regents gave Lane thirty days to "cure" the allegations. "If cure can be made," the statement said, a hearing before the board of regents will be held and Lane will be "given the opportunity to demonstrate any error in fact contained in this notice" or "evidence of cure."

Lane, who attended the meeting, told the Houston Chronicle that "they didn’t mention anything that links anything to myself or any of my administration team. You didn’t hear one fact that they were able to prove with anything they said today.” He accused the board of mismanagement and "trying to make sure they do my job."

The motion to terminate passed in a 6-1 vote shortly after midnight. Outraged members in the audience interjected frequently as the statement was read.

Lane headed Texas Southern, one of the country’s largest historically black colleges, since 2016.

Regents had provided no explanation when they placed Lane on paid administrative leave on Jan. 10. A statement issued then said only that the regents were “committed to ensuring all activities at the university are conducted in an ethical and transparent manner in accordance with the university's mission, vision and values.”

Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Huewitt was appointed acting president that day.

After being criticized by a member of their own board for not giving Lane a chance to defend himself before suspending him, the regents released another statement on Jan. 17 seeming to connect Lane’s ouster to previously disclosed problems with Texas Southern’s admissions process, though it did not explicitly tie Lane to the improprieties.

Instead, it said the board notified Lane in October 2019 that regents, the chief internal auditor and “external Board counsel” had contacted local law enforcement after confirming there had been problems with the admissions process. The auditor, a third-party investigator, and “special board employment counsel, and/or external board counsel” interviewed Lane and his executive management team, the statement said. Lane was asked to meet with regents at two special called meetings and was interviewed again later by the chief internal auditor and the board’s employment counsel.

Regents met with the chief internal auditor, independent counsel and third-party investigators for about seven hours the day Lane was suspended, the statement says.

“As the investigation continues, we urge everyone in our TSU community to comply with University policies and internal audit and litigation risk management protocols; and we will continue to cooperate with the independent investigations by law enforcement,” the Jan. 17 statement sayid. It’s unclear what investigations it’s referring to.

One person has already been fired in connection with the admissions improprieties. The board said in November that it had launched a comprehensive review of the university’s admissions processes and was cooperating with investigators.