In a complaint filed with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the TACC challenged a plan to reassign the endowed A.M. Aikin Chair in Community College Leadership to a faculty member who does not serve in UT’s Community College Leadership Program, considered by many to be the country’s premier training ground for future community college administrators. The complaint also charges that UT intends to inappropriately divert more than $1 million from two programs that sustain themselves with membership subscriptions and external grants: the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement.
The current A.M. Aikin chair, Walter Bumphus, will soon depart the leadership program to become the president of the American Association of Community Colleges. In June, TACC President Reynaldo Garcia discovered that Manuel Justiz, the dean of the college of education, intended to assign that chair to a faculty member with no community college experience and no affiliation with the leadership program. Around the same time, Kay McClenney, who directs the community college survey, was told by Justiz that he would be taking a 25 percent cut of revenues generated by fees that community colleges pay to participate in the national survey and to receive publications, data analysis and other services.
UT spokesman Don Hale declined to comment on the complaint except to say that Justiz and the university's provost, Steven Leslie, had developed a plan for “the use of resources” within the college that has been submitted for review to its legal affairs department and internal auditors.
Garcia’s complaint asks Abbott to evaluate if UT’s behavior is violating generally accepted accounting standards. “In accounting,” he says, “you create restricted funds for specific purposes. You can’t just move funds around from a restricted account to a general account.”
On July 23, Garcia and El Paso Community College President Richard Rhodes, the chair of the TACC board, sent a letter to UT President William Powers Jr. noting that their respective organizations enjoy “an extraordinary relationship” that is “based on trust.” But they warned, “The actions of Dean Justiz threaten to undermine our trust in UT, and our ability to work effectively across sectors to serve the higher education needs in the state.” Powers has yet to answer the letter, which prompted Garcia and Rhodes to turn to the attorney general.
Powers has received a similar letter at least once before. In January, Valleau Wilkie, the executive vice president of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, sent the UT president a note expressing concern that money given for the Sid Richardson Chair in Community College Leadership was being used to support faculty outside the Community College Leadership Program. “None of the funds were to be used for other purposes in the College of Education,” Wilkie wrote.
Endowed faculty and programs like McClenney’s are vital to the development of community colleges, advocates say. Currently, about 60 percent of Texans in higher education start out in community colleges, which are experiencing record enrollments. At the same time, the complaint notes, “administrative leaders are aging and retiring. We are in need of a corps of newly educated leadership to continue the work of our colleges.”
Because of restrictions on how many classes and doctoral committees faculty can handle, Garcia argues that removing a full-time faculty member would make it necessary to reduce the number of graduates from the Community College Leadership Program.
“Every college president is concerned about succession planning and the future of community college leadership,” says Rhodes, a graduate of the program. “And they’re very confused about potentially losing tools … that help us do a better job of teaching and learning.” He describes the data provided by the Community College Student Survey of Engagement and the best practices shared by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development as “invaluable,” observing that, for many colleges, they have both become a standard part of doing business.
McClenney notes that while no one within the contested UT programs was involved in filing the complaint, she shares Garcia’s concerns. Through normal attrition, the community college survey staff currently has a number of vacancies that she can’t fill until the matter gets resolved. “For now, everybody’s going to be doing more work for no more money,” she says.
McClenney says the university, which does not pay her salary, already benefits directly and indirectly from the program, which hires doctoral students and aids research. McClenney also teaches classes. “There’s never been a dime of university or public money seen for those services,” she says. “It’s what I do because we’re part of the university.”
The university, in turn, charges an administrative fee on all expenditures, covering costs associated with housing the program. McClenney says that practice is “perfectly reasonable” but different from taxing the membership subscriptions paid by community colleges — a move she calls “inappropriate.”
“Those are fees paid by colleges across Texas and across the country for specific purposes,” McClenney says. “We’ve been very clear on our website and our publications [about] what colleges receive, and it doesn’t include general support for the college of education.”
Rhodes says that in the community college community, the level of concern is running “very, very high” as to what the final decision will be regarding these plans. As it stands, he says, “It shows a lack of understanding and a lack of support and a commitment to the relationship between UT and community colleges.”