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Texas Southern University regents vote to fire school's president

President Austin Lane was suspended in mid-January from the top post at the historically black school in Houston with little explanation. Now regents have voted to terminate him over allegations of admissions irregularities and other contract violations.

Texas Southern University, Feb. 22nd, 2012.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

Texas Southern University regents moved early Wednesday morning to terminate President Austin Lane — who was abruptly suspended from his post in January — for failing to report allegations of fraud in the university admissions process and directing 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 entertainment expenses reimbursement process,” which requires board approval.

Regents gave Lane 30 days to "cure" the allegations "if cure can be made." At a hearing before the board of regents, Lane will be "given the opportunity to demonstrate any error in fact contained in this notice" or "evidence of cure," the statement said.

Lane, who attended the meeting, told the Houston Chronicle the allegations are false and accused the board of mismanagement and "trying to make sure they do my job."

"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 said.

Lane told a Houston television station, "My reputation and track record speak for themselves, and we have done it the right way, even in the face of adversity."

The motion to terminate passed in a 6-1 vote shortly after midnight. Outraged supporters of Lane in the audience interjected frequently as the notice of termination for cause was read.

It was later posted online.

In the four-page letter, Lane is accused of failing to report that a former official improperly helped students gain admittance or get scholarships to attend the law school — once, in exchange for $14,000 in cash. The official, then an assistant dean of law school admissions and financial aid, resigned in lieu of termination.

Lane "and/or your subordinate" allowed one of those students to enter another university graduate program that he was not qualified for and had not submitted an application to attend, the notice says.

Lane is also accused of obstructing an internal investigation into the admissions improprieties, according to the letter.

"A consequence of your actions, and in particular the dishonesty, misrepresentation, material omission, and intentional concealment aspects of your conduct, is injury to the trust placed in you by the Board to manage and lead the university on a day to day basis," the notice says.

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

Regents provided no explanation when they placed Lane on paid administrative leave 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 the board for not giving Lane a chance to defend himself before suspending him, the regents released another statement 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 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 said. It’s unclear what investigations it’s referring to.

The board said in November that it had launched a comprehensive review of the university’s admissions processes and was cooperating with investigators.

Disclosure: Texas Southern University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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