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Accusation of Cash Grab in Texas

October 13, 2010

The Texas Association of Community Colleges filed a complaint Tuesday with the state attorney general’s office accusing the University of Texas at Austin of raiding the coffers of several community college programs housed in its education school.

The group, which represents all of the state’s community college chancellors and presidents, contends that the university is “inappropriately” taking funds for endowed chairs in its influential Community College Leadership Program (CCLP), and subscription fees for the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) and Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), and using the money elsewhere in the College of Education’s budget for purposes “unrelated to community college research and support.”

The current A.M. Aikin Chair in Community College Leadership is Walter Bumphus, who will soon be leaving the department to become the next president of the American Association of Community Colleges, in Washington. According to the complaint, Manuel Justiz, dean of the College of Education, “expressed his intention that this tenured position will not be replaced in the department” and that the Aikin Chair “will be assigned to an assistant dean who does not serve in the CCLP."

“Funds for the Aikin Chair were raised from community colleges to provide support for the CCLP,” the complaint reads. “We view the reassignment of the Chair as a breach of trust with the donors that funded the position.”

In addition, the complaint alleges that money from the Sid Richardson Foundation, which also funded a chair specifically for the Community College Leadership Program, is being used to fund individuals who are outside of the program.

Reynaldo Garcia, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that he was looking out for the interest of the donors for these chairs, who, at least in the case of the A.M. Aikin Chair, were community college leaders from around Texas, and members of his organization.

In a second allegation with more far-reaching consequences, the complaint contends that Justiz “intends to appropriate over $1 million from the NISOD and CSSEE budgets for the benefit of” the College of Education. Since these organizations are self-supporting enterprises under the university’s umbrella that garner funds from membership subscriptions and external grants, the complaint deems this an “irregular seizure of restricted funds.”

“Our member colleges do not fund or join these groups to provide funds for the College of Education,” the complaint reads. “Our funds are provided to these organizations to support their mission and to provide direct services to our member colleges. The fastest way to erode support for UT, CCLP, NISOD and CCSSE is to divert funds from these programs for unintended purposes.”

Garcia said his organization decided to file the complaint with the state attorney general’s office after a formal letter asking William Powers Jr., UT-Austin's president, to look into the issue did not elicit a response.

Kay McClenney, director of the student engagement survey, said in an interview Tuesday evening that neither she nor any other officials from the CCLP, NISOD or CCSSE were involved in the complaint from Garcia’s organization. But she confirmed the complaint's basic facts and said she shared the concerns it raised.

For instance, McClenney explained that Justiz had approached her this summer and announced that he would like “to tax, at a rate of 25 percent, the accounts for both CCSSE and NISOD in which we accrue revenues paid by community colleges around the country for specific purposes” within the College of Education. Of the timing of this announcement, she said only that the university, “like many others around the country, is dealing with significant financial struggles.”

McClenney said she had approached Justiz about his plan to “tax” CCSSE and expressed her disagreement with idea.

“We were hopeful there could be some resolution to this within the university, but that’s not been fruitful to date,” McClenney said.

University of Texas at Austin officials had no comment on the complaint filed by the community college association. Don Hale, a university spokesman, did note that Justiz, with the support of the provost, has asked the university’s internal audit and legal affairs teams to review the plans developed for “appropriate use of funds” in the College of Education.

 

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