MORE

Crisis on Cullen Boulevard

If you're looking for the chancellor of the University of Houston System during working hours, don't bother dropping by the main UH campus off the Gulf Freeway, the one that philanthropist Hugh Roy Cullen endowed back in the 1930s with the idea that it would provide a higher education for the children of the city's working class.

No, if you're looking for Alex Schilt, you have to travel several miles north, through the hardscrabble streets of the Third Ward and past the deteriorating edges of downtown to the steel and glass skyscrapers in the heart of the central business district. It's there you can find Schilt, comfortably ensconced at the top of the Entex Building in an aerie that has all the plush trappings of a corporate CEO's digs, including the expensive furnishings and impressive view of the skyline.

A pencil-thin, bespectacled man of aristocratic bearing whose background is in educational psychology, Schilt certainly fits into the corporate milieu, entertaining nightly with dinner parties at Wortham House, the UH System head's official residence on South Boulevard near UH's private and more prestigious counterpart in the city, Rice University. In addition to his system duties, the chancellor holds one of the premier corporate directorships in Houston: a seat on the board of HL&P's parent company, Houston Industries, a perk that yields him about $25,000 a year in director's fees.

Schilt once told a UH regent that he didn't think the school's main campus in southeast Houston was a place where business executives would feel comfortable. Asked recently why the university system's offices aren't on the main campus, Schilt just laughed.

"I don't think they'd want us there," he explained.
Maybe not, especially if the "they" are the professors that, in recent months, have risen in near open revolt against not only Schilt, but his man on the main campus, UH President Jim Pickering. In the last year, funding at the city's largest public institution of higher education has plummeted by more than $8 million; some faculty stars have packed their bags and hied off to greener pastures; and a contingent of about 50 full professors, including some of the most respected and recognizable names on campus, has organized to try and stem what they see as a serious hemorrhaging of their school's research and academic capabilities. Not very welcoming indeed.

At the mostly commuter campus south of the air-conditioned splendor of Schilt's downtown office, the summer mugginess hasn't appreciably lifted. Still, as at most other universities this week, there's a touch of fall detectable in the air as nearly 40,000 students and their instructors get back to the business of higher education. The start of classes at an older university can seem like one more turn in a timeless succession of semesters peopled by youthful faces enacting old traditions anew in museum-quality buildings. But at 61 -- barely more than an infant in academic years -- UH is too raw and young to be shrouded in ivy. The school is still searching for tradition and esteem -- both within its community, where alumni support is shaky, and in the Texas Legislature, which controls its financial lifeline and where many lawmakers' old school ties bind them to UH's competitors: the University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

In many ways, UH's history parallels that of the city in which it sits, right down to that deep-seated insecurity that surfaces without much prompting in times of crisis. "Choke City" and "Cougar High" are the inverse manifestations of all that bright, boosterish rhetoric that the city's and the university's leaders burble at every opportunity. That either institution exists at all is a triumph of the will and the cash of self-promoting developers such as the Allens and their next evolutionary incarnation, first-generation philanthropists such as the Cullen family. In the never ending quest for respect outside the city limits, self-doubt is never too far below the can-do front. Houston has been to the moon, but somehow feels it has never really arrived, a recent NBA Championship notwithstanding. This is a syndrome that requires more therapy than a few basketball victories.

The growth of the UH System is also reminiscent of Houston's sprawling, unregulated dog paddle into suburban pasturelands. In the 1960s, what started as a power move to get rid of an unwanted dean on the main campus led to his installation as the head of a separate campus bureaucracy, the University of Houston at Clear Lake. Similarly, the UH-Downtown campus was born of a need to shore up a collapsing junior college favored for night classes by downtown business folk. UH's then-president, Phil Hoffman, hungered for a "system" designation that would give his university the same structure as the big boys -- the UT and A&M systems. Both UH expansions were approved after the fact by the state Legislature, but they generated a backlash that eventually caused lawmakers to dig in their heels and during the '80s reject the school's decade-long attempt to plant a flag in the middle of developer George Mitchell's Woodlands north of the city. A fourth UH campus at Victoria way out the Southwest Freeway was approved only after some powerful arm-twisting by Houston-area legislators. The upshot: a system in which three of the independent campuses are small asteroids, the fourth is a massive planet and they're all supervised equally by a single, growing system bureaucracy atop a downtown business tower.

 

UH now has its system status, but unlike UT and A&M, which are protected somewhat from hard financial times by access to the Permanent University Fund, a wellspring of reserved state financing, UH must scrap for the dollars it can get. During the last legislative session, the main campus' state budget of $225 million suffered an $8.5 million cut, the largest loss by any state-funded university in Texas. Since higher education is increasingly vulnerable as legislators opposed to tax increases look for ways to fund federally mandated expenditures for school districts and prisons, UH administrators are already steeling themselves for more cuts in the coming legislative session in January, even as they issue cheery bulletins and press releases painting a bright future for the state's largest urban teaching-research university easily accessible to burgeoning Hispanic and black communities.

But warnings that the future isn't so rosy are coming from some of the school's veteran faculty members, who this spring formed a new group, the Coalition for Excellence, dedicated to maintaining academic and research standards at UH. Houston politicos who understand the school's importance to the city have also added their voices to the chorus of concern over UH's future. Academics and politicians both contend that unless something is done to stem an erosion in the quality of the school's faculty, and the level of the school's support in the Legislature, Texas' largest city will be permanently saddled with a second-class public university. While Schilt says the school "is at risk" if it doesn't recruit more minorities, the Coalition argues that Houston's minority communities are at risk if the school is allowed to slide into academic mediocrity. "Do we have to export our talented black and Hispanic students to other areas?" asks political scientist Dr. Richard Murray, a Coalition spokesman. "I don't think so."

Mayor Bob Lanier says UH's lobbying effort in Austin is outgunned and needs help and direction. According to the mayor, neither he nor the city's lobbying team have been asked to help the school.

"The fate of Houston and the fate of the university are inseparably intertwined," says Lanier. "So many of their graduates end up in Houston. They end up being our professional people, our teachers, our executives. It's absolutely vital to this city that the university be treated on a parity with other great universities of the state."

UH administrators counter that the school's critics are well-intentioned but uninformed about complex issues. President Jim Pickering also suggests that the university professors who have been leading the criticism are among the most insecure academics around.

"People moving through the ranks get to a certain point in their career," says Pickering. "They've taught well, they've researched well, written good books, and all of a sudden the world isn't exactly [what they expect]. I don't know whether that's an adequate explanation for why people are upset, but I know when I ... talk to people ... almost every one fits into this new category: 'Alone and afraid in a world I never made.'"

Most striking about the new protest on campus is that the noise is coming from relatively affluent, established, middle-aged vocal cords. Unlike the 1960s, when it was the students who did most of the protesting, those questioning the system now come from a generation of faculty that arrived at UH during the era of student radicalism and have since put down a quarter century's worth of roots on the Cullen Boulevard campus. Their summers are, likely as not, spent at California vacation homes, sailing the Aegean or furnishing new West U abodes. In class terms, these are hardly lumpen-profs.

The Coalition operates outside the traditional structure of the UH Faculty Senate, despite the fact that some of its members are also faculty senators. Dr. Kent Tedin, the chairman of UH's political science department, helped organize the Coalition for Excellence, which grew out of a bull session at a Montrose watering hole. He says the group consists of 50 full professors on the UH main campus (more than 10 percent of the total number of full professors), faculty who represent the arts, the humanities and the sciences. Recognized campus veterans, the Coalition's members are mostly white and male -- not surprising, Tedin insists, on a campus that only in the last decade began to aggressively recruit minorities and women for its faculty. The informal membership list includes superstar professor Dr. Paul Chu, director of UH's Texas Center for Superconductivity and someone whose credentials are not easily questioned. Tedin characterizes the Coalition for the most part "as a group of late forties, early fifties guys. Most have been at UH since 1980 and [they've] got an investment in this place 'cause [they] don't want to leave."

 

Coalition members vary in their prescriptions for curing the problems its members say are contributing to the undermining of UH. But a few concepts seem to have general acceptance, among them shaking up the campus bureaucracy by folding smaller schools into departments and eliminating half a dozen high-salaried deanships. On a larger stage, Coalition members support moving the UH system's bureaucracy back to the main campus, merging its leadership into a single chancellor/president's position and cutting back duplicated functions such as public relations. And the Coalition argues that the system should hire a big-gun lobbying team to fight for the school in Austin. Meanwhile, regents, alumni and local politicians would be drafted into the battle for lawmaker support.

President Pickering says the issue of consolidating departments is tricky and could result in alienating alumni as well as donors like the Hilton family, backers of UH's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. "It seems to me you better be damn sure before you throw around easy solutions that may or may not save money," he says.

As for moving the UH system's bureaucracy onto the main campus, Pickering says that would blur the identity between him and Chancellor Schilt. "I think both Alex and I are very aware of the need to make sure there is a separate identity," he says.

But Pickering has no doubt about the identity of the Coalition, acknowledging it's "made up of our best faculty."

Lawyer Vidal Martinez, who sits on the UH Board of Regents, concurs. "When you get this collection of people whose talent you cannot disagree with, trying to send you a message," he says, "you need to be ready to listen to it."

In the highly structured world of the University of Houston's regents, a late June meeting in a ballroom at the Hilton School of Hotel and Restaurant Management on the main campus provided an unusual spectacle. But since it occurred in a closed executive session, the public missed out on the action. Largely at the behest of Martinez and philanthropist-regent John Moores, a group of UH professors got the almost unprecedented opportunity to deliver a stinging, hour-long critique of Schilt and Pickering, the school's upper-level managers, to their faces in front of their appointed bosses. Following the UH commencement ceremonies in late May, Martinez and Moores had been given a preview presentation from the Coalition, and that had impressed them enough to recommend the show to the entire board.

The chancellor's staff carefully controls the flow of information to the board, and this presentation constituted a massive, if temporary, breach of the info-dam.

Gary Etgen, who's chaired the UH mathematics department for 16 years, began the presentation by explaining to his select audience how a much touted effort to cut bureaucratic waste and streamline campus operations by restructuring had resulted in little more than a token trim of minor programs such as jewelry making. Political scientist Richard Murray, who's taught or advised dozens of politicians in Harris County for nearly a quarter-century, told the regents that the school is losing political clout and funding because its Austin representatives are outclassed by the powerhouse alumni legislators and lobbying teams assembled by A&M, Tech and UT.

Law school professor Bill Streng then finished off the barrage by calling for an outside management audit of the UH system itself, the layer of bureaucracy headed by Schilt that sits atop the pyramid of four UH campuses. If any view is shared almost universally among UH faculty, it's that the system is bloated to the point that its administrative structure needs drastic modification and its budget needs to be pared by millions.

The regents reacted positively to the presentation, if comments by board chair Beth Morian are any indication. "Now that the summer is over, I look forward to getting back in touch with them," says Morian. Her remarks have resonance -- she's a granddaughter of Hugh Roy Cullen, whose largess got UH off the ground, and she's viewed by Coalition organizers as one of the regents closest to Schilt. "They bring up some interesting points," she says of the professors, "and we're all interested in the good of the university."

 

Regent Martinez says the presentation was an eye opener. "We were receiving information for the first time on some of those issues," he says. "They view the restructuring process as being dead. They view our legislative efforts as needing to be reorganized and redirected."

Schilt took the criticism unruffled, while Pickering parried with some of the presenters. The regents asked a number of questions, primarily about the political issues, and the mood stayed cordial. Staff waiting outside the room heard laughter.

But some other folks on the UH campus weren't laughing. Social Sciences Dean Harrell Rodgers, preparing that day for a meeting with a superior in which he expected to get marching orders for the coming semester, suddenly found his meeting canceled. Rodgers was a key player in the administration of the late UH President Marguerite Barnett, and he has been an intense critic of Schilt and Pickering and a backer of the Coalition. That last may be one reason his meeting was canceled; as Rodgers discovered later, he was to be dumped from his deanship by Pickering. He'll return to the political science department as a professor but will be taking a pay cut after rejecting a proposal to keep his administrator's salary in return for muting his criticism of the administration.

While Pickering's aides characterized the shift as a routine changing of the guard, Rodgers contends his dismissal is a retaliation to his continuing criticism of his bosses, and in particular his support for the Coalition. In an interview in his final days as dean, Rodgers indicated his may not be the only head to roll: "When he called me [in early August], I told Chancellor Schilt, 'The clock is ticking, buddy, everybody knows it's not working in Austin. People are going to be paying a whole lot more attention this time, and we haven't done the work we needed to do. People are questioning the lack of strategic planning and the quality of leadership here. You better get a grip on the fact we better change what we're doing or you're going to be a victim too."

In line with UH's inbred sense of inferiority, system administrators -- using an "it could have been worse" rationale -- have actually tried to portray the funding cut the main campus suffered at the Legislature's hands as a victory. They even awarded chief lobbyist Grover Campbell, the system's vice chancellor for governmental relations (and a UT grad), a generous $10,000 raise.

A thin, blonde man with a slight drawl who's in his early forties but could pass as a grad student in his late twenties, Campbell has represented the UH system in Austin for nearly a decade. He says his critics have distorted the school's performance there.

"I know the allegations of failure are out there, but if you've got to define success you've got to define failure," he says. Campbell blames UH's declining enrollment, particularly in graduate classes, for most of the funding losses. He produces a list of goals he's accomplished, a list Coalition members say accounts for small battles and misplaced priorities in a losing war.

"If you want to talk about whether I have the right marching orders, you need to talk to the Board of Regents, the chancellor and the presidents," retorts Campbell. "They're the ones who put together our agenda. This is not an agenda that I sit up in an office late at night and just create myself."

Schilt's cohorts in Houston's business community sent him congratulatory notes after hearing the system's glowing account of the session's outcome. But key Harris County legislators and on-campus observers saw something quite different: a humiliating defeat and a warning flag.

"We've got to do something," says state Senator John Whitmire, a UH law school graduate and 22-year veteran of legislative service. "UH has never been able to compete on a level playing field with UT and A&M. It's gotten worse because now you have other institutions, like Texas Tech, moving out ahead of UH, and that's just sheer political power."

Whitmire says the university is too valuable an asset in the city, particularly to Houston's minority communities, to be allowed to degenerate.

"If we want it to be the institution it has a right to be, we've got to marshal the troops," he says. "It's bigger than John Whitmire. It's bigger than Alex Schilt. It's going to take a community effort."

State Representative Sylvester Turner, another UH alumnus, warns that if the status quo continues, the school is headed for second- or third-class status. "That's what is happening," says Turner. "When it comes to funding for the University of Houston, it is not looked at with those schools grouped on level one."

 

Asked whether he favors upgrading the University's lobbying effort, Regent Martinez responds with a question: "You've got to ask yourself, how smart was it for the University of Texas to hire [former state senator] Ray Farrabee for their system? How smart was it to put [former House speaker] Billy Clayton on the board of A&M? It was smart!"

Schilt maintains that his troops have improved their performance in Austin over the past several sessions, but says a lack of resources is a handicap. "We have a much smaller staff of people to do that lobbying and probably we suffer in that we don't have the number of people to go around," he says.

The upcoming legislative session could result in even deeper budget reductions at UH. Campbell says that some $8 million in cuts suspended by a "hold-harmless" designation in the last session will be on the line again. Earlier this summer, the threat prompted Pickering to urge his deans to recruit more students or face potential across the board salary cuts. "How do we do that?" counters one dean. "[We] can't go out on street corners and [just] find students."

Academic department heads say that without the financial and research incentives to keep key faculty members, professors are looking toward greener pastures on the East and West coasts and points in between. Chemistry professor Andrew McCammon, touted by admirers as a potential Nobel laureate, is departing for the University of California at San Diego. Gayle Beck, a respected clinical psychologist, bid UH adieu to accept a better-paying position at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In the political science department, Bruce Oppenheimer accepted Vanderbilt's $82,000 offer after UH countered with an offer of only $70,000. The loss of such talents, says mathematics department chair Etgen, can have a multiplier effect.

"Our department isn't unique in significantly improving over the last 16 years," he says. "We really have made some rather strong moves forward in terms of quality and recognition ... but if the word gets out that things aren't going very well here, then you start worrying about how you're going to keep top faculty you have, because they can go elsewhere."

On the athletic front, regent Moores, the computer-software magnate, donated $70 million to the school, but earmarked $25 million of that for a new athletic facility. Recently, the senior schools of the Southwest Conference took their balls and walked away to the Big 10, leaving the UH Cougars without the umbrella of the SWC and the respectability in Texas circles that school boosters craved and scraped and bowed to earn in the late '60s. Before the SWC collapse, faculty members sniped at Moores' philanthropic priorities, which had the effect of cementing the school's wedding to big-time college athletics beyond the year 2000. Given the current financial crunch, Moores' supergym is not quite what the doctor ordered.

Unlike other Coalition members, Harrell Rodgers cannot be said to lack administrative ambitions. At 55, the outspoken, opinionated Rodgers, a native Houstonian who managed hamburger joints while earning a graduate degree at the school, has literally burned his way through the UH bureaucracy, all the while shooting from the lip at superiors. Colleagues praise him as a hard worker and an excellent fundraiser who has donated royalties from some of his more than a dozen books to college endowments. During the early '90s, when he was the school's legislative liaison, Rodgers showed refreshing flair and innovation, once busing students to Austin to buttonhole legislators. A small man with a round, youthful face, penetrating eyes and a tendency to lecture rather than converse, Rodgers' departure as social sciences dean has him preparing to move back into the political science department as a professor, after overseeing it for eight years. He's unstinting in his criticism of the UH system and its chancellor and president, and heaps much of the blame for the current campus problems on Schilt.

Despite vocal support for Rodgers from colleagues at a regents meeting last week, Pickering is sticking with his decision to dismiss him from his deanship. "I need to have a leadership team in whom I have absolute confidence," says Pickering. "Deans are part of an administration that certainly should be encouraged to bring opposition to the base, but ultimately needs to come together to a common understanding to get the job done. And that's how I think a university has to operate."

Not so long ago, during the administration of Marguerite Barnett, the first black and first woman to serve as UH's president, whose tenure was cut short by her death from a brain tumor in 1992, the two men were allies. Pickering served as acting senior vice president, the number two position in the administration, while Rodgers was Barnett's outside liaison working the Legislature. By all accounts, the two were great friends. "That's absolutely true," says Pickering after firing the dean. "I mean, there is a lot of pain in this and I wouldn't pretend that [there's not.]"

 

In Rodgers' telling, he repeatedly helped protect Pickering from Barnett, who was "a very ambitious person, and knowing she was sick, she wanted the image out that Jim just didn't have any ability. I defended Jim to her over and over. He'd call and say 'My God, she did this and that.' I told her, 'Marguerite, can you lighten up a little bit. I've seen a lot of this guy's work -- he's doing a good job. You're not making him feel very good.'"

Barnett ended up conducting a national search for a permanent senior vice president and indicated she wasn't going to give the job to Pickering. But at that point, she was increasingly ill and making questionable decisions, says Rodgers. When it became apparent that the ailing Barnett could no longer fulfill her duties, Rodgers says it was he who lobbied Schilt and overcame his objections to have Pickering named as acting president on a six-month trial basis.

By Rodgers' account, the alliance between him and Pickering foundered when the new acting president appointed Glen Aumann as his senior vice president while Rodgers was out of town. "If I'd been making a list of 100 people to be senior V.P., it would never have been Glenn Aumann," says Rodgers. "I was fuming mad, and confronted Pickering. He said the other deans had shot down all of his choices, and that was all he was left with. I saw the list and he was right. They were all worse than Aumann."

"That's when I realized I'd made a serious mistake," adds Rodgers. "Marguerite had seen something I hadn't seen. It went downhill from there. It became clear to me he wasn't going to use a cabinet, that he wouldn't consult with anybody, that he was a behind-closed-doors kind of guy." Not so coincidentally, Rodgers has a reputation among colleagues for lecturing to subordinates, but rarely consulting with them about decisions. An audit of his school, while generally praiseworthy, made the same muted criticism.

Rodgers says he went to Schilt and tried to pull the plug on Pickering. "I told Schilt, 'I've made a serious mistake. This guy is not qualified to be president. He just doesn't have any judgment at all. Surrounds himself by weak people, and he doesn't consult.'"

By then, Rodgers says, Schilt had decided Pickering was his kind of guy. "Of course, Schilt's interest was in having someone in there who wouldn't give him the kind of problems Marguerite did. Marguerite ... was always tough on the people above her."

Rodgers believes Pickering, who had been on the outs with Barnett and was in no position to exercise independence from Schilt, was just what the chancellor wanted.

"I think [Schilt] was so traumatized by [Barnett] that when he got a guy like Pickering, who wouldn't make a move without calling him on the phone and asking permission, well, that was exactly what he wanted," Rodgers says. Without a national search, Pickering was appointed president.

Pickering declined to discuss his history with Rodgers, saying, "I really hate and I've tried not to comment on personnel issues. It's only harmful to get into a 'Yes I did, no I didn't' situation."

Rodgers' take on Schilt is caustic. "A professional nice guy," he says. "He works real hard at that, being that nicest, most reasonable, decent, caring, loving man you'll ever meet. He knows all of the regents' birthdays and anniversaries and children's names, and when they go on a trip he writes 'em notes saying, 'I hope you have a good time.' I think he parlayed that from the downtown campus presidency into a position where he's in totally over his head."

Rodgers points out that the council of UH deans unanimously voted against Schilt's appointment, saying he was unqualified and if he was the final candidate, a new national search should be launched.

Through an aide, Schilt declined to respond to specific remarks made by Rodgers for this story.

Rodgers is still angry over a phone call several weeks ago from the chancellor, during which he says Schilt reminded him he was a "friend and buddy" and urged the dean to take a settlement maintaining his pay, to keep his mouth shut and to go back to teaching.

"Alex said to me, 'Gee, we offered you a wonderful deal to just walk away quietly, and I would have taken it, Harrell.' I said 'Yep, you sure would have.'"

 

If UH has a face in Houston political cir cles, it's the craggy 53-year-old visage of Dr. Richard Murray, the Louisiana-born political scientist who has polled for the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News, provided a talking head for local election night newscasts as long as his students can remember and has instant entree to the offices of the city's political elite. He's not universally admired, of course. During the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary, former attorney general Jim Mattox accused Murray of rigging polls to undermine Bulldog Jim's campaign. Murray laughed it off, and Mattox took his predicted drubbing.

Murray, who occasionally partners with political science chair Tedin in outside consulting projects, is financially comfortable and recently purchased a summer home in the wine country of California's Napa Valley. The father of two adult sons and recently remarried, he's neither a malcontent nor a bomb thrower, nor does he nurse ambitions for higher academic office.

"I have been here 28 years and I plan on staying, I'm not likely to leave," says the professor. "But I'm more worried about the university's future than at any point in my tenure. We're underachieving. We're better than people think we are, and we do a lot of things awfully well. But we've not organized ourselves to utilize our strengths."

Murray says he has no axes to grind with Schilt or Pickering -- he says he just wants to be part of a successful university. "And people in this community ought to demand that. Four million people around here and they need an excellent public university, and UH is the only option," he says.

Murray tapped his vaunted political connections one afternoon in July by dropping into Mayor Lanier's City Hall office to discuss what he sees as the university's dire political situation in Austin. Lanier told him he had not even been contacted on behalf of the school until after UH was dumped by its Southwest Conference partners. Lanier has publicly damned the school for its sin of omission.

"They never approached him until after the fact on the Southwest Conference, which he just found astounding," remembers Murray. "Every sports editor and anyone who reads the sports page in town knew this was coming. Joe the Ragman could have said this is about to happen. But we were surprised."

Murray has written a 22-page report documenting why the school needs a professional lobbying team to replace or supplement the efforts of Grover Campbell and his assistant. The report emphasizes that the old Austin lobbying system, involving lawmaker enticements like the "three B's" (Beef, Bourbon and Blondes), has been replaced in the modern, more diverse legislature by a system based on the "three F's" (Facts, Footwork and Financing). "Finances," writes Murray, "because most members want to hold their seats and some are ambitious for higher office. A House campaign can easily cost $150,000 these days, a Senate race $500,000. The stork does not bring the money. Most must be raised, with the assistance of lobbyists, from parties with continuing business before the Legislature.

"One advantage we have is to exploit the fact we have some politically very well connected regents who could help us a lot if they would turn their attention to their friends in the Legislature. John Moores, of course. Vidal Martinez. Beth Morian, John O'Quinn. Zinetta Burney has stroke in the black community and Phil Carroll is CEO at Shell. We have strong former members like Ken Lay, who could be helpful. But we haven't created any structure to exploit that."

Grover Campbell, Murray notes, has lasted through three chancellors at the UH system "and his power has increased. They've sucked everything up to the system level. It's amazing how he's advanced to this critical position. He got a ten-grand raise after we lost $8.5 million. I don't call losing $8.5 million a victory, not when everybody else is not being cut."

If you're looking for the chancellor of the University of Houston System during working hours, don't bother dropping by the main UH campus off the Gulf Freeway, the one that philanthropist Hugh Roy Cullen endowed back in the 1930s with the idea that it would provide a higher education for the children of the city's working class.

No, if you're looking for Alex Schilt, you have to travel several miles north, through the hardscrabble streets of the Third Ward and past the deteriorating edges of downtown to the steel and glass skyscrapers in the heart of the central business district. It's there you can find Schilt, comfortably ensconced at the top of the Entex Building in an aerie that has all the plush trappings of a corporate CEO's digs, including the expensive furnishings and impressive view of the skyline.

 

A pencil-thin, bespectacled man of aristocratic bearing whose background is in educational psychology, Schilt certainly fits into the corporate milieu, entertaining nightly with dinner parties at Wortham House, the UH System head's official residence on South Boulevard near UH's private and more prestigious counterpart in the city, Rice University. In addition to his system duties, the chancellor holds one of the premier corporate directorships in Houston: a seat on the board of HL&P's parent company, Houston Industries, a perk that yields him about $25,000 a year in director's fees.

Schilt once told a UH regent that he didn't think the school's main campus in southeast Houston was a place where business executives would feel comfortable. Asked recently why the university system's offices aren't on the main campus, Schilt just laughed.

"I don't think they'd want us there," he explained.
Maybe not, especially if the "they" are the professors that, in recent months, have risen in near open revolt against not only Schilt, but his man on the main campus, UH President Jim Pickering. In the last year, funding at the city's largest public institution of higher education has plummeted by more than $8 million; some faculty stars have packed their bags and hied off to greener pastures; and a contingent of about 50 full professors, including some of the most respected and recognizable names on campus, has organized to try and stem what they see as a serious hemorrhaging of their school's research and academic capabilities. Not very welcoming indeed.

At the mostly commuter campus south of the air-conditioned splendor of Schilt's downtown office, the summer mugginess hasn't appreciably lifted. Still, as at most other universities this week, there's a touch of fall detectable in the air as nearly 40,000 students and their instructors get back to the business of higher education. The start of classes at an older university can seem like one more turn in a timeless succession of semesters peopled by youthful faces enacting old traditions anew in museum-quality buildings. But at 61 -- barely more than an infant in academic years -- UH is too raw and young to be shrouded in ivy. The school is still searching for tradition and esteem -- both within its community, where alumni support is shaky, and in the Texas Legislature, which controls its financial lifeline and where many lawmakers' old school ties bind them to UH's competitors: the University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

In many ways, UH's history parallels that of the city in which it sits, right down to that deep-seated insecurity that surfaces without much prompting in times of crisis. "Choke City" and "Cougar High" are the inverse manifestations of all that bright, boosterish rhetoric that the city's and the university's leaders burble at every opportunity. That either institution exists at all is a triumph of the will and the cash of self-promoting developers such as the Allens and their next evolutionary incarnation, first-generation philanthropists such as the Cullen family. In the never ending quest for respect outside the city limits, self-doubt is never too far below the can-do front. Houston has been to the moon, but somehow feels it has never really arrived, a recent NBA Championship notwithstanding. This is a syndrome that requires more therapy than a few basketball victories.

The growth of the UH System is also reminiscent of Houston's sprawling, unregulated dog paddle into suburban pasturelands. In the 1960s, what started as a power move to get rid of an unwanted dean on the main campus led to his installation as the head of a separate campus bureaucracy, the University of Houston at Clear Lake. Similarly, the UH-Downtown campus was born of a need to shore up a collapsing junior college favored for night classes by downtown business folk. UH's then-president, Phil Hoffman, hungered for a "system" designation that would give his university the same structure as the big boys -- the UT and A&M systems. Both UH expansions were approved after the fact by the state Legislature, but they generated a backlash that eventually caused lawmakers to dig in their heels and during the '80s reject the school's decade-long attempt to plant a flag in the middle of developer George Mitchell's Woodlands north of the city. A fourth UH campus at Victoria way out the Southwest Freeway was approved only after some powerful arm-twisting by Houston-area legislators. The upshot: a system in which three of the independent campuses are small asteroids, the fourth is a massive planet and they're all supervised equally by a single, growing system bureaucracy atop a downtown business tower.

UH now has its system status, but unlike UT and A&M, which are protected somewhat from hard financial times by access to the Permanent University Fund, a wellspring of reserved state financing, UH must scrap for the dollars it can get. During the last legislative session, the main campus' state budget of $225 million suffered an $8.5 million cut, the largest loss by any state-funded university in Texas. Since higher education is increasingly vulnerable as legislators opposed to tax increases look for ways to fund federally mandated expenditures for school districts and prisons, UH administrators are already steeling themselves for more cuts in the coming legislative session in January, even as they issue cheery bulletins and press releases painting a bright future for the state's largest urban teaching-research university easily accessible to burgeoning Hispanic and black communities.

 

But warnings that the future isn't so rosy are coming from some of the school's veteran faculty members, who this spring formed a new group, the Coalition for Excellence, dedicated to maintaining academic and research standards at UH. Houston politicos who understand the school's importance to the city have also added their voices to the chorus of concern over UH's future. Academics and politicians both contend that unless something is done to stem an erosion in the quality of the school's faculty, and the level of the school's support in the Legislature, Texas' largest city will be permanently saddled with a second-class public university. While Schilt says the school "is at risk" if it doesn't recruit more minorities, the Coalition argues that Houston's minority communities are at risk if the school is allowed to slide into academic mediocrity. "Do we have to export our talented black and Hispanic students to other areas?" asks political scientist Dr. Richard Murray, a Coalition spokesman. "I don't think so."

Mayor Bob Lanier says UH's lobbying effort in Austin is outgunned and needs help and direction. According to the mayor, neither he nor the city's lobbying team have been asked to help the school.

"The fate of Houston and the fate of the university are inseparably intertwined," says Lanier. "So many of their graduates end up in Houston. They end up being our professional people, our teachers, our executives. It's absolutely vital to this city that the university be treated on a parity with other great universities of the state."

UH administrators counter that the school's critics are well-intentioned but uninformed about complex issues. President Jim Pickering also suggests that the university professors who have been leading the criticism are among the most insecure academics around.

"People moving through the ranks get to a certain point in their career," says Pickering. "They've taught well, they've researched well, written good books, and all of a sudden the world isn't exactly [what they expect]. I don't know whether that's an adequate explanation for why people are upset, but I know when I ... talk to people ... almost every one fits into this new category: 'Alone and afraid in a world I never made.'"

Most striking about the new protest on campus is that the noise is coming from relatively affluent, established, middle-aged vocal cords. Unlike the 1960s, when it was the students who did most of the protesting, those questioning the system now come from a generation of faculty that arrived at UH during the era of student radicalism and have since put down a quarter century's worth of roots on the Cullen Boulevard campus. Their summers are, likely as not, spent at California vacation homes, sailing the Aegean or furnishing new West U abodes. In class terms, these are hardly lumpen-profs.

The Coalition operates outside the traditional structure of the UH Faculty Senate, despite the fact that some of its members are also faculty senators. Dr. Kent Tedin, the chairman of UH's political science department, helped organize the Coalition for Excellence, which grew out of a bull session at a Montrose watering hole. He says the group consists of 50 full professors on the UH main campus (more than 10 percent of the total number of full professors), faculty who represent the arts, the humanities and the sciences. Recognized campus veterans, the Coalition's members are mostly white and male -- not surprising, Tedin insists, on a campus that only in the last decade began to aggressively recruit minorities and women for its faculty. The informal membership list includes superstar professor Dr. Paul Chu, director of UH's Texas Center for Superconductivity and someone whose credentials are not easily questioned. Tedin characterizes the Coalition for the most part "as a group of late forties, early fifties guys. Most have been at UH since 1980 and [they've] got an investment in this place 'cause [they] don't want to leave."

Coalition members vary in their prescriptions for curing the problems its members say are contributing to the undermining of UH. But a few concepts seem to have general acceptance, among them shaking up the campus bureaucracy by folding smaller schools into departments and eliminating half a dozen high-salaried deanships. On a larger stage, Coalition members support moving the UH system's bureaucracy back to the main campus, merging its leadership into a single chancellor/president's position and cutting back duplicated functions such as public relations. And the Coalition argues that the system should hire a big-gun lobbying team to fight for the school in Austin. Meanwhile, regents, alumni and local politicians would be drafted into the battle for lawmaker support.

 

President Pickering says the issue of consolidating departments is tricky and could result in alienating alumni as well as donors like the Hilton family, backers of UH's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. "It seems to me you better be damn sure before you throw around easy solutions that may or may not save money," he says.

As for moving the UH system's bureaucracy onto the main campus, Pickering says that would blur the identity between him and Chancellor Schilt. "I think both Alex and I are very aware of the need to make sure there is a separate identity," he says.

But Pickering has no doubt about the identity of the Coalition, acknowledging it's "made up of our best faculty."

Lawyer Vidal Martinez, who sits on the UH Board of Regents, concurs. "When you get this collection of people whose talent you cannot disagree with, trying to send you a message," he says, "you need to be ready to listen to it."

In the highly structured world of the University of Houston's regents, a late June meeting in a ballroom at the Hilton School of Hotel and Restaurant Management on the main campus provided an unusual spectacle. But since it occurred in a closed executive session, the public missed out on the action. Largely at the behest of Martinez and philanthropist-regent John Moores, a group of UH professors got the almost unprecedented opportunity to deliver a stinging, hour-long critique of Schilt and Pickering, the school's upper-level managers, to their faces in front of their appointed bosses. Following the UH commencement ceremonies in late May, Martinez and Moores had been given a preview presentation from the Coalition, and that had impressed them enough to recommend the show to the entire board.

The chancellor's staff carefully controls the flow of information to the board, and this presentation constituted a massive, if temporary, breach of the info-dam.

Gary Etgen, who's chaired the UH mathematics department for 16 years, began the presentation by explaining to his select audience how a much touted effort to cut bureaucratic waste and streamline campus operations by restructuring had resulted in little more than a token trim of minor programs such as jewelry making. Political scientist Richard Murray, who's taught or advised dozens of politicians in Harris County for nearly a quarter-century, told the regents that the school is losing political clout and funding because its Austin representatives are outclassed by the powerhouse alumni legislators and lobbying teams assembled by A&M, Tech and UT.

Law school professor Bill Streng then finished off the barrage by calling for an outside management audit of the UH system itself, the layer of bureaucracy headed by Schilt that sits atop the pyramid of four UH campuses. If any view is shared almost universally among UH faculty, it's that the system is bloated to the point that its administrative structure needs drastic modification and its budget needs to be pared by millions.

The regents reacted positively to the presentation, if comments by board chair Beth Morian are any indication. "Now that the summer is over, I look forward to getting back in touch with them," says Morian. Her remarks have resonance -- she's a granddaughter of Hugh Roy Cullen, whose largess got UH off the ground, and she's viewed by Coalition organizers as one of the regents closest to Schilt. "They bring up some interesting points," she says of the professors, "and we're all interested in the good of the university."

Regent Martinez says the presentation was an eye opener. "We were receiving information for the first time on some of those issues," he says. "They view the restructuring process as being dead. They view our legislative efforts as needing to be reorganized and redirected."

Schilt took the criticism unruffled, while Pickering parried with some of the presenters. The regents asked a number of questions, primarily about the political issues, and the mood stayed cordial. Staff waiting outside the room heard laughter.

But some other folks on the UH campus weren't laughing. Social Sciences Dean Harrell Rodgers, preparing that day for a meeting with a superior in which he expected to get marching orders for the coming semester, suddenly found his meeting canceled. Rodgers was a key player in the administration of the late UH President Marguerite Barnett, and he has been an intense critic of Schilt and Pickering and a backer of the Coalition. That last may be one reason his meeting was canceled; as Rodgers discovered later, he was to be dumped from his deanship by Pickering. He'll return to the political science department as a professor but will be taking a pay cut after rejecting a proposal to keep his administrator's salary in return for muting his criticism of the administration.

 

While Pickering's aides characterized the shift as a routine changing of the guard, Rodgers contends his dismissal is a retaliation to his continuing criticism of his bosses, and in particular his support for the Coalition. In an interview in his final days as dean, Rodgers indicated his may not be the only head to roll: "When he called me [in early August], I told Chancellor Schilt, 'The clock is ticking, buddy, everybody knows it's not working in Austin. People are going to be paying a whole lot more attention this time, and we haven't done the work we needed to do. People are questioning the lack of strategic planning and the quality of leadership here. You better get a grip on the fact we better change what we're doing or you're going to be a victim too."

In line with UH's inbred sense of inferiority, system administrators -- using an "it could have been worse" rationale -- have actually tried to portray the funding cut the main campus suffered at the Legislature's hands as a victory. They even awarded chief lobbyist Grover Campbell, the system's vice chancellor for governmental relations (and a UT grad), a generous $10,000 raise.

A thin, blonde man with a slight drawl who's in his early forties but could pass as a grad student in his late twenties, Campbell has represented the UH system in Austin for nearly a decade. He says his critics have distorted the school's performance there.

"I know the allegations of failure are out there, but if you've got to define success you've got to define failure," he says. Campbell blames UH's declining enrollment, particularly in graduate classes, for most of the funding losses. He produces a list of goals he's accomplished, a list Coalition members say accounts for small battles and misplaced priorities in a losing war.

"If you want to talk about whether I have the right marching orders, you need to talk to the Board of Regents, the chancellor and the presidents," retorts Campbell. "They're the ones who put together our agenda. This is not an agenda that I sit up in an office late at night and just create myself."

Schilt's cohorts in Houston's business community sent him congratulatory notes after hearing the system's glowing account of the session's outcome. But key Harris County legislators and on-campus observers saw something quite different: a humiliating defeat and a warning flag.

"We've got to do something," says state Senator John Whitmire, a UH law school graduate and 22-year veteran of legislative service. "UH has never been able to compete on a level playing field with UT and A&M. It's gotten worse because now you have other institutions, like Texas Tech, moving out ahead of UH, and that's just sheer political power."

Whitmire says the university is too valuable an asset in the city, particularly to Houston's minority communities, to be allowed to degenerate.

"If we want it to be the institution it has a right to be, we've got to marshal the troops," he says. "It's bigger than John Whitmire. It's bigger than Alex Schilt. It's going to take a community effort."

State Representative Sylvester Turner, another UH alumnus, warns that if the status quo continues, the school is headed for second- or third-class status. "That's what is happening," says Turner. "When it comes to funding for the University of Houston, it is not looked at with those schools grouped on level one."

Asked whether he favors upgrading the University's lobbying effort, Regent Martinez responds with a question: "You've got to ask yourself, how smart was it for the University of Texas to hire [former state senator] Ray Farrabee for their system? How smart was it to put [former House speaker] Billy Clayton on the board of A&M? It was smart!"

Schilt maintains that his troops have improved their performance in Austin over the past several sessions, but says a lack of resources is a handicap. "We have a much smaller staff of people to do that lobbying and probably we suffer in that we don't have the number of people to go around," he says.

The upcoming legislative session could result in even deeper budget reductions at UH. Campbell says that some $8 million in cuts suspended by a "hold-harmless" designation in the last session will be on the line again. Earlier this summer, the threat prompted Pickering to urge his deans to recruit more students or face potential across the board salary cuts. "How do we do that?" counters one dean. "[We] can't go out on street corners and [just] find students."

 

Academic department heads say that without the financial and research incentives to keep key faculty members, professors are looking toward greener pastures on the East and West coasts and points in between. Chemistry professor Andrew McCammon, touted by admirers as a potential Nobel laureate, is departing for the University of California at San Diego. Gayle Beck, a respected clinical psychologist, bid UH adieu to accept a better-paying position at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In the political science department, Bruce Oppenheimer accepted Vanderbilt's $82,000 offer after UH countered with an offer of only $70,000. The loss of such talents, says mathematics department chair Etgen, can have a multiplier effect.

"Our department isn't unique in significantly improving over the last 16 years," he says. "We really have made some rather strong moves forward in terms of quality and recognition ... but if the word gets out that things aren't going very well here, then you start worrying about how you're going to keep top faculty you have, because they can go elsewhere."

On the athletic front, regent Moores, the computer-software magnate, donated $70 million to the school, but earmarked $25 million of that for a new athletic facility. Recently, the senior schools of the Southwest Conference took their balls and walked away to the Big 10, leaving the UH Cougars without the umbrella of the SWC and the respectability in Texas circles that school boosters craved and scraped and bowed to earn in the late '60s. Before the SWC collapse, faculty members sniped at Moores' philanthropic priorities, which had the effect of cementing the school's wedding to big-time college athletics beyond the year 2000. Given the current financial crunch, Moores' supergym is not quite what the doctor ordered.

Unlike other Coalition members, Harrell Rodgers cannot be said to lack administrative ambitions. At 55, the outspoken, opinionated Rodgers, a native Houstonian who managed hamburger joints while earning a graduate degree at the school, has literally burned his way through the UH bureaucracy, all the while shooting from the lip at superiors. Colleagues praise him as a hard worker and an excellent fundraiser who has donated royalties from some of his more than a dozen books to college endowments. During the early '90s, when he was the school's legislative liaison, Rodgers showed refreshing flair and innovation, once busing students to Austin to buttonhole legislators. A small man with a round, youthful face, penetrating eyes and a tendency to lecture rather than converse, Rodgers' departure as social sciences dean has him preparing to move back into the political science department as a professor, after overseeing it for eight years. He's unstinting in his criticism of the UH system and its chancellor and president, and heaps much of the blame for the current campus problems on Schilt.

Despite vocal support for Rodgers from colleagues at a regents meeting last week, Pickering is sticking with his decision to dismiss him from his deanship. "I need to have a leadership team in whom I have absolute confidence," says Pickering. "Deans are part of an administration that certainly should be encouraged to bring opposition to the base, but ultimately needs to come together to a common understanding to get the job done. And that's how I think a university has to operate."

Not so long ago, during the administration of Marguerite Barnett, the first black and first woman to serve as UH's president, whose tenure was cut short by her death from a brain tumor in 1992, the two men were allies. Pickering served as acting senior vice president, the number two position in the administration, while Rodgers was Barnett's outside liaison working the Legislature. By all accounts, the two were great friends. "That's absolutely true," says Pickering after firing the dean. "I mean, there is a lot of pain in this and I wouldn't pretend that [there's not.]"

In Rodgers' telling, he repeatedly helped protect Pickering from Barnett, who was "a very ambitious person, and knowing she was sick, she wanted the image out that Jim just didn't have any ability. I defended Jim to her over and over. He'd call and say 'My God, she did this and that.' I told her, 'Marguerite, can you lighten up a little bit. I've seen a lot of this guy's work -- he's doing a good job. You're not making him feel very good.'"

 

Barnett ended up conducting a national search for a permanent senior vice president and indicated she wasn't going to give the job to Pickering. But at that point, she was increasingly ill and making questionable decisions, says Rodgers. When it became apparent that the ailing Barnett could no longer fulfill her duties, Rodgers says it was he who lobbied Schilt and overcame his objections to have Pickering named as acting president on a six-month trial basis.

By Rodgers' account, the alliance between him and Pickering foundered when the new acting president appointed Glen Aumann as his senior vice president while Rodgers was out of town. "If I'd been making a list of 100 people to be senior V.P., it would never have been Glenn Aumann," says Rodgers. "I was fuming mad, and confronted Pickering. He said the other deans had shot down all of his choices, and that was all he was left with. I saw the list and he was right. They were all worse than Aumann."

"That's when I realized I'd made a serious mistake," adds Rodgers. "Marguerite had seen something I hadn't seen. It went downhill from there. It became clear to me he wasn't going to use a cabinet, that he wouldn't consult with anybody, that he was a behind-closed-doors kind of guy." Not so coincidentally, Rodgers has a reputation among colleagues for lecturing to subordinates, but rarely consulting with them about decisions. An audit of his school, while generally praiseworthy, made the same muted criticism.

Rodgers says he went to Schilt and tried to pull the plug on Pickering. "I told Schilt, 'I've made a serious mistake. This guy is not qualified to be president. He just doesn't have any judgment at all. Surrounds himself by weak people, and he doesn't consult.'"

By then, Rodgers says, Schilt had decided Pickering was his kind of guy. "Of course, Schilt's interest was in having someone in there who wouldn't give him the kind of problems Marguerite did. Marguerite ... was always tough on the people above her."

Rodgers believes Pickering, who had been on the outs with Barnett and was in no position to exercise independence from Schilt, was just what the chancellor wanted.

"I think [Schilt] was so traumatized by [Barnett] that when he got a guy like Pickering, who wouldn't make a move without calling him on the phone and asking permission, well, that was exactly what he wanted," Rodgers says. Without a national search, Pickering was appointed president.

Pickering declined to discuss his history with Rodgers, saying, "I really hate and I've tried not to comment on personnel issues. It's only harmful to get into a 'Yes I did, no I didn't' situation."

Rodgers' take on Schilt is caustic. "A professional nice guy," he says. "He works real hard at that, being that nicest, most reasonable, decent, caring, loving man you'll ever meet. He knows all of the regents' birthdays and anniversaries and children's names, and when they go on a trip he writes 'em notes saying, 'I hope you have a good time.' I think he parlayed that from the downtown campus presidency into a position where he's in totally over his head."

Rodgers points out that the council of UH deans unanimously voted against Schilt's appointment, saying he was unqualified and if he was the final candidate, a new national search should be launched.

Through an aide, Schilt declined to respond to specific remarks made by Rodgers for this story.

Rodgers is still angry over a phone call several weeks ago from the chancellor, during which he says Schilt reminded him he was a "friend and buddy" and urged the dean to take a settlement maintaining his pay, to keep his mouth shut and to go back to teaching.

"Alex said to me, 'Gee, we offered you a wonderful deal to just walk away quietly, and I would have taken it, Harrell.' I said 'Yep, you sure would have.'"

If UH has a face in Houston political cir cles, it's the craggy 53-year-old visage of Dr. Richard Murray, the Louisiana-born political scientist who has polled for the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News, provided a talking head for local election night newscasts as long as his students can remember and has instant entree to the offices of the city's political elite. He's not universally admired, of course. During the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary, former attorney general Jim Mattox accused Murray of rigging polls to undermine Bulldog Jim's campaign. Murray laughed it off, and Mattox took his predicted drubbing.

Murray, who occasionally partners with political science chair Tedin in outside consulting projects, is financially comfortable and recently purchased a summer home in the wine country of California's Napa Valley. The father of two adult sons and recently remarried, he's neither a malcontent nor a bomb thrower, nor does he nurse ambitions for higher academic office.

 

"I have been here 28 years and I plan on staying, I'm not likely to leave," says the professor. "But I'm more worried about the university's future than at any point in my tenure. We're underachieving. We're better than people think we are, and we do a lot of things awfully well. But we've not organized ourselves to utilize our strengths."

Murray says he has no axes to grind with Schilt or Pickering -- he says he just wants to be part of a successful university. "And people in this community ought to demand that. Four million people around here and they need an excellent public university, and UH is the only option," he says.

Murray tapped his vaunted political connections one afternoon in July by dropping into Mayor Lanier's City Hall office to discuss what he sees as the university's dire political situation in Austin. Lanier told him he had not even been contacted on behalf of the school until after UH was dumped by its Southwest Conference partners. Lanier has publicly damned the school for its sin of omission.

"They never approached him until after the fact on the Southwest Conference, which he just found astounding," remembers Murray. "Every sports editor and anyone who reads the sports page in town knew this was coming. Joe the Ragman could have said this is about to happen. But we were surprised."

Murray has written a 22-page report documenting why the school needs a professional lobbying team to replace or supplement the efforts of Grover Campbell and his assistant. The report emphasizes that the old Austin lobbying system, involving lawmaker enticements like the "three B's" (Beef, Bourbon and Blondes), has been replaced in the modern, more diverse legislature by a system based on the "three F's" (Facts, Footwork and Financing). "Finances," writes Murray, "because most members want to hold their seats and some are ambitious for higher office. A House campaign can easily cost $150,000 these days, a Senate race $500,000. The stork does not bring the money. Most must be raised, with the assistance of lobbyists, from parties with continuing business before the Legislature.

"One advantage we have is to exploit the fact we have some politically very well connected regents who could help us a lot if they would turn their attention to their friends in the Legislature. John Moores, of course. Vidal Martinez. Beth Morian, John O'Quinn. Zinetta Burney has stroke in the black community and Phil Carroll is CEO at Shell. We have strong former members like Ken Lay, who could be helpful. But we haven't created any structure to exploit that."

Grover Campbell, Murray notes, has lasted through three chancellors at the UH system "and his power has increased. They've sucked everything up to the system level. It's amazing how he's advanced to this critical position. He got a ten-grand raise after we lost $8.5 million. I don't call losing $8.5 million a victory, not when everybody else is not being cut."

Campbell, who insists the outcome of the last session was indeed a victory, has no apologies for his added take-home pay. "The board reviewed my salary, the chancellor did a months-long [review] and then this last spring I was given a raise," replies the vice chancellor.

Murray finds the system's defense transparent. "They argued that the Legislature changed the funding formula. So why did they change the formula?" he asks. "Because the system didn't make a case for them not to change it. They act as if things happen in Austin because of divine wisdom."

The political scientist puzzles why "we're in the worst position of any school, and we have the weakest lobbying effort. Seems to me it ought to be the reverse. The chiropractors -- they're vulnerable. They have one hell of a lobbying effort because the medical doctors are always trying to screw them. Here we're being screwed and we ought to have one hell of a lobbying effort."

Asked why a school administration and city government with so many of the same interests haven't cooperated more, Campbell is terse. "Well, you'll need to visit with the mayor about that. I'm not going to get into it .... Once we know what it is we're trying to accomplish, then you want to get everybody involved, everybody you can think of: chancellor, alumni, faculty, neighbors, everybody you can think of. Let's not worry so much about the how, as we should concern ourselves about the what."

And perhaps that's the core of the school's current problems. Everybody you talk to seems to have an idea of what they'd like to do to put the university on the right track, but given bureaucratic and budget constraints, nobody seems to know how to get there. By the time they figure it out, there just might not be a first-class university there anymore.

 


Sponsor Content