The firing of Texas Southern University’s president last month was not only met with controversy, but has also brought attention to the dysfunction within HBCU boards and its’ members, as pointed out by Dillard University President Walter M. Kimbrough in a recently penned op-ed.
Dr. Austin Lane was no longer employed by Texas Southern as of Feb. 20 after he and the university’s Board of Regents “mutually agreed” to cut ties. According to details from Lane’s settlement, the former HBCU president received a buyout worth nearly $900,000, which included $100,000 for “emotional distress, damage to reputation and mental anguish.” Meanwhile, according to KHOU, the university’s board voted 6 to 1 to fire Lane after accusing him of being connected to an admissions scandal involving thousands of dollars, and a fired employee.
Kimbrough, who has a fifteen-year HBCU president tenure, spoke of his concern for the firing of Dr. Lane, whom he has a “collegial relationship” with. “I was concerned, but not surprised by Lane’s ouster. I’ve watched a lot of presidents come and go,” he said. “More often the cause is not retirement or incompetence, but rather the egregious acts of an egomaniacal board. It is usually the worst with politically appointed board members who see these positions as superior to the president. They often expect to be served rather than to serve the institution. In the case of HBCUs, these types of board members are literally killing the schools.”
Kimbrough noted that the board members’ interest was not of the university, but instead, self-serving. He said, “One regent complained about where he was dropped off to attend a football game, and not having prime seating during the presidential debate. Another boldly articulated that they have the ability to hire and fire everyone, including the janitor.”
Dillard University’s president also addressed his belief that the TSU’s Board of Regents “handled this entire situation haphazardly,” saying that Dr. Lane finding out that his employment was in jeopardy from anyone other than the board was “suspect.”
He added that if Dr. Lane “was failing or committed some egregious act,” he should have been spoken with directly and the board should have “either allowed him to resign or terminated him.” Kimbrough continued, “The massive buyout and lack of transparency indicate that this is a board that is out of control.”
Kimbrough suggested that in order for the situation to be rectified, the Board of Regents must be replaced, “immediately.”
He also gave a stern advisement against considering the president position at TSU. “Stay away until they clean the board. Don’t get caught up in the idea of wanting to be a president, because any president working under this board is asking for a tenure filled with micromanaged misery. Chances are you will suffer a similar fate, and there will be no one to advocate on your behalf,” Kimbrough added.