By Terrance Turner
On Feb. 4, the Texas Southern University Board of Regents voted to terminate President Dr. Austin Lane. The Board voted 6-1 in favor of termination after a contentious five-hour meeting that stretched until midnight. Lane had served as TSU’s president since 2016. In a statement, the board announced its decision. The statement reads, in part:
“The Texas Southern University Board of Regents voted today to propose the termination of Dr. Austin A. Lane. This action is based on an audit committee’s finding that Dr. Lane violated his contract including the termination for cause provision. His 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. The improprieties in the law school involved a former official who is no longer employed in the law school […]
An investigation conducted by the University’s internal auditor, third-party investigators and board counsel concluded that Dr. Lane failed to appropriately act on or inform the Board about allegations of fraud committed by the former law school official, including evidence of a student payment for admission to the school. These and other actions had the effect of concealing such fraud. 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. It also found that Dr. Lane and his assistant attempted to direct another former law school official to misrepresent a report to a national law school accreditation review board. The Board took additional steps to confirm its findings utilizing three separate law firms to assist with the process.”From “Texas Southern University Board of Regents Special Announcement” – 2/4/2020
The Board detailed its findings in a four-page termination letter, addressed to Lane and released that same day. The letter states that the Board’s decision to terminate was made “after
conducting a detailed and ongoing investigation concerning troubling issues which have arisen
during your term of employment.
The letter continues:
“Section VII(F) defines, in part, “cause” for termination of the Contract as: “(6) failure to
promptly advise and fully report to the Board any matter known by Dr. Lane that tends to bring
public disrespect, contempt or ridicule upon the University, or (7) any act that creates a material
adverse effect on the reputation and/or brand of the University.” As will be discussed below in
greater detail, it is alleged that you have failed to fulfill these obligations.
As set forth in your Contract, you have a duty to promptly advise and fully report to the
Board any matter known by you that tends to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule upon
the University. It is alleged that you failed to meet this obligation by failing to report to the
Board and to the internal auditor allegations of fraudulent and dishonest activities of the former
Assistant Dean of Law School Admissions and Financial Aid (the “Former Assistant Dean”). As
you know, the Former Assistant Dean resigned in lieu of termination for facilitating a fraudulent
transfer law school application for Student One. Also, the Former Assistant Dean facilitated
second fraudulent admission and scholarship for a first-year law school student (Student Two) in
exchange for fourteen thousand dollars ($14,000) in cash. The Former Assistant Dean also
provided false LSAT information for submission to the ABA law school accreditation review
board. Each of these items are serious matters and are the subject of ongoing investigations.
It appears from the investigation to date that, upon being presented with evidence of
fraud committed by the Former Assistant Dean and Student One, you and/or your subordinate
allowed this student, to be admitted into the University into another graduate program, for which
he was not qualified without having filed an application for admission.”
The Board alleges that admitting the student amounts to an attempted cover-up of wrongdoing, charging that Lane did not promptly report the matter to the Board or an internal auditor.
The Board of Regents launched an investigation in response to these matters. During the investigation (which involved the Chief Internal Auditor, outside counsel, and third-party investigators), Lane was interviewed twice. The Board claims that statements Lane made in the second interview are “inconsistent” with what he said in the first. It also alleges that he took actions meant to obstruct the audit committee’s investigation.
The Board further asserts that Dr. Lane “directed excessive entertainment expenses” to be paid through the TSU Foundation instead of via TSU’s expense reimbursement process. That process, outlined in Section V of Lane’s contract, would’ve required approval of funds by the Board. Its termination letter asserts that Lane never presented the full cost of such expenses for approval and charges that he acted in order to avoid the Board’s oversight. “Moreover, your direct reporting subordinate delayed for months before releasing documentation of these expenses to the internal auditor, who was conducting an audit of your expenses at the request of Board’s Audit Committee. The records were not released until immediately prior to you being placed on administrative leave,” the letter says.
Lane has 30 days to contest the termination. He appears poised to do so; KHOU reported that Lane will consult with his lawyer and his wife in order to determine the next steps. Lane responded to the allegations with language that sounds much like another president.
“This really is a witch hunt,” Lane said in a press conference on Thursday. “I have never been involved — in my 25 years of working in higher ed — with a calculated witch hunt.” He says requested an open hearing to have the matter heard by the public. He also said there was no evidence of his wrondgoing. “You hear a lot in there about either, ‘It appeared to be’ or ‘We think you did’. There’s no evidence, if you look in that document,” he said in video posted on the KHOU website.
Lane responded to the allegations with an eight-age rebuttal. Among other things, he argued that the Board itself violated the Fraud Policy (a part of the TSU manual on procedures, or MAPPS). The policy specifies that “management” (i.e. vice presidents, managers, supervisors, etc.) is responsible for detecting fraud and dishonesty, not the board. Lane also forcefully denied any wrongdoing in regards to the admissions fraud and “Student One”:
The board has also accused me of being presented with evidence of fraud committed by the former
assistant dean and student one. First and foremost, I was just informed for the first time on February 4
during the special called meeting about the allegations they were making against me. Until then, I have never been given an opportunity to know what I was being accused of. Secondly, I have not been
presented with any alleged evidence of fraud that was supposedly committed from the board regarding the investigation they took over from the internal auditor. They have accused me of knowing about the evidence and that is false and has never been shared with me by anyone to date. I also don’t know who they are referring to when they mention “student one” in their claim against me. They alleged that my subordinate and I “allowed this student to be admitted into the university into another graduate program for which he was not qualified without having filed an application for admissions.” I have absolutely nothing to do with graduate admissions and have never talked to “student one” nor did I authorize my provost to grant any admissions into graduate school for this person. The provost and dean of the graduate school can and will dispel this erroneous claim against me.
More details will follow in Part II of this report.