Friday, April 20, 2007

Texas Southern University and conservatorship

Kristen Mack of the Houston Chronicle has a good report on the differing opinions regarding fixing TSU's financial problems. One the one hand, TSU has consistently had problems with managing their finances, including the hiring of a CFO with a felony conviction for writing false checks. TSU also has a very low graduation rate (less than 20%). On the other hand, TSU has produced more than it's share of congressmen and women (including Mickey Leland and Barbara Jordan) and a significant number of minority attorneys and pharmacists.

Texas, and its large African American and Hispanic population, needs universities like TSU that accept all applicants. It is part of the foundation of the community and a pipeline for minority talent to find graduate education and skilled jobs (that help the tax base by the way).

It is also a symbol of fiscal mismanagement. If TSU goes out of business (and this happened to Bishop College in Dallas), blaming the state for not sending enough money won't excuse "losing track" of millions of dollars. And cutting academic programs (like the proposed elimination of majors in Spanish and History) make a mockery of the idea of higher education.

Governor Rick Perry wants to have a Consevator manage the university for one year; many others just want to reorganize the Board of Regents. I don't think any of this will matter if the basic culture of TSU does not change. The only way for TSU to become a sustainable, economically viable entitiy is for the students, alumni, faculty, and trustees to decide to hire honest leadership and let them lead without asking them to keep the status quo. there is a tendency to decide to hold on to "traditions" and to keep doing things "the way we've always done them". But since that is consistently leading to outdated facilities and misappropriated funds, radical and unwelcome change will be coming. Hopefully, not the kind of change that causes TSU to close its door completely.

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