Rice Gets the Mayor Back

Some former students question whether Brown's a plus

During a recent interview at City Hall, Mayor Lee Brown told The Insider he planned to teach at a local university when he leaves office in January. Brown said it is "premature to decide right now, but I'm looking at it."

He allowed as "Sam Houston State has a good criminal justice program down there, too, so that's in the mix as well. I've been trying to write a textbook on policing for years and years, and that's what I really want to do: finish that textbook."

When his comments came out in the Houston Press ("Parting Shots," by Tim Fleck, May 15), they ruffled more than a few feathers at the other end of Main Street, on the Rice University campus. The Insider has learned Hizzoner already struck a deal with Rice to be a senior researcher starting next year and to write that promised tome on community-oriented policing. The agreement had been negotiated by his close friend, retired corporate exec Grover Jackson.

It will be Brown's second stint at Rice. He taught there two semesters in the mid-'90s while laying the groundwork for his mayoral run. Former mayor Kathy Whitmire also taught at Rice after her defeat in 1991, and her successor as mayor, Bob Lanier, has been part of several seminar series shared with the University of Houston.

Interestingly, come January there will be a role reversal for the mayor. Brown's superior at Rice will be social sciences dean Bob Stein, the husband of mayoral agenda director Marty Stein. Stein declined to comment on the return of Brown to the school.

Rice President Malcolm Gillis had offered Brown the position in the School of Social Sciences as a gesture of respect and as part of his continuing effort to promote diversity in the private university's heavily Anglo faculty and student body. In the Press interview Brown either was playing coy with the reference to Sam Houston State or else really believed he could juggle two different college gigs at the same time. Brown spokesman Jim Young did not respond to an Insider inquiry seeking an explanation from the mayor.

Under the terms of the deal, Brown will retain all rights to royalties from the proposed book and will have to find his own publisher, since Rice shut down its academic press years ago. Brown will get campus office space, secretarial and graduate student assistance, and a stipend to pay for travel and research costs.

While Brown will be available as a guest lecturer at Rice, he will not teach his own class. Given his track record, several former students say that's a good thing.

"We were all excited in taking criminology from him, in that we all knew or believed he had experience," recalls 27-year-old Josephine Davidson, a junior at the time in 1996. The class did not live up to expectations. The Lee Brown she met was the one Houstonians would later get to know as mayor: wooden and uncommunicative.

"It was like a really bad high school class where all we did was read out of textbooks," says Davidson, who now works in the business side of the music industry. "He would actually read portions of it, and there was very little discussion. There was very little from his direct experiences, and he had very little analytical input into what it was we were studying. I just felt he was phoning it in."

One of the lowlights, remembers Davidson, was Brown bringing in an undercover police officer who regaled the students with a tale about planting fake escort service ads in the Press, then entrapping and busting callers on prostitution charges.

"I just scratched my head and wondered, 'How did this guy get as far as he did in his career?' " says Davidson. "What was he doing well enough to get him promoted continually?" She recalls that when she learned her professor was planning to run for mayor, she was "very dismayed" because she thought, "This is not good."

Another former Rice student who is now a Houston lawyer says she stopped attending Brown's lectures since reading the textbook was all that was really necessary to prepare for his tests.

After a barrage of scathing student evaluations at the end of that first semester, Brown was teamed with charismatic professor Bill Martin for his second term and did much better, according to Rice sources.

Brown's return next year could cause some resentment among colleagues, who have been laboring under a de facto pay freeze this year as well as a hiring moratorium. But given the mayor's long-established penchant for travel, which has earned him the nickname Out of Town Brown, he may not be around enough to attract notice.

 
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