Sam Houston's Retreat?

SHSU stirred the higher-ed circles. Now the excitement has turned to exodus.

Tim Flanagan was the first to depart. The dean of criminal justice joined State University of New York. Bill Covington, vice president for research and development, resigned two years ago and is now at Southwest Texas State University. Governor George W. Bush tapped Ken Craycraft, dean of the school of education and applied science, for a position in his administration, and academic affairs associate vice president Donald Coers became a full vice president at Angelo State.

Arguably the biggest shift involves no departure from the university. Christopher Baldwin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, reportedly had been in line to replace Marks when he retires. Instead, Baldwin was bumped down from dean to professor.

Seeking insight into that change may explain why other professors are hesitant to comment for the record. "I was required to sign a gag order," Baldwin says. "I'm stepping down, not entirely joyously. If I speak out, I would lose my job and my sabbatical."

Sam Houston State may be looking ahead, but some faculty and administrators are looking elsewhere.
Scott Gilbert
Sam Houston State may be looking ahead, but some faculty and administrators are looking elsewhere.

David Payne, vice president for academic affairs, momentarily lapses into silence when asked about the gag order. "Chris was asked to be a contributing member of the creative team," Payne says. "That is not a gag order."

But Marks confirms that Baldwin has been muzzled. "I don't know why that was done, I do not know, but it was probably on the orders of our general counsel in Austin."

Faculty concerns about the future of Sam Houston State do not appear to extend to the school's overseers. It is part of the eight-school Texas State University System, whose regents seem content with the turmoil in Huntsville.

Longtime regent Pollyanna Stephens says Sam Houston is "well run," and she applauds the move of former administrator Coers to her hometown college, Angelo State.

"I understand that the faculty might be upset that they are losing good people," she says. "It is hard for me to be concerned about Huntsville because they are sending us such wonderful people. Our system is eight schools. It's like having a family of eight kids. You don't love one more than the other."

In fact, she lauds Sam Houston for its low profile. "There are a lot of things that you don't see because they are not flashy. To the board, that is wonderful."

But Stephens concedes that the faculty may have cause for annoyance, if not concern.

New trustee Jimmy Hayley, an SHSU alum who heads the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce, similarly dismisses the complaints. "You look at every university, and you are going to have that kind of turnover," he says.

Marks defends his record. On his watch, the university has gone from one doctoral program, in criminal justice, to three -- adding ones in educational leadership and forensic clinical psychology. He also led the effort to establish SHSU's University Center in The Woodlands.

"We have evolved into a very fine regional university with some programs that have gone beyond the region and have a national reputation," he says. Marks suspects that part of the criticism he faces is because of the slow pace of the university's surroundings: Huntsville, Texas, population 34,500.

"What we have here is an atmosphere of relaxed effort," he says. "What we don't want is an atmosphere of happy loafers."

Former president Anisman credits Marks with making some of the hires that highlighted Anisman's administration. As for the acrimony, Anisman explains that it is an established part of academia:

"Being a university president is analogous to herding cats."

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