He's Out of Here
Achieving faculty diversity at the University of Houston has been the subject of much rhetoric by its administration in the last few years, but the school apparently won't put its money behind its mouthings. Christian Davenport, a talented young political scientist who was also the only African-American on his department's professorial roster on the main campus, resigned last week to take a position at the University of Colorado after UH refused to make a satisfactory counteroffer to keep him. A nephew of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, Davenport was recently named by Ebony magazine as one of the 60 most promising under-30 black professionals in the nation. He draws rave reviews from fellow professors.
"He has great statistical math skills, has published in major journals, is a demanding teacher and a great role model," observed one colleague. "He had also been near the top of the faculty ranks in student evaluations."
Department sources blame Davenport's loss on a rigid, no-exceptions policy enforced by Provost John Ivancevich not to raise faculty salaries simply to match offers from other schools. A source close to Davenport estimates that $60,000, the annual salary of a beginning business or law professor, would have kept Davenport in Cougarland. Ivancevich also refused to approve a year's leave of absence from UH for Davenport, a last-ditch tactic that would have left an open door for the professor to return to UH if he were dissatisfied with Colorado. A spokesman for Ivancevich denied UHhas a formal policy regarding counteroffers to faculty, but acknowledged the provost's office would not engage in a bidding war to keep professors at the school.
UH regent Zinetta Burney, an African-American attorney, questions why the university didn't make more of an effort to keep Davenport. "As I understand it, this is the first time that policy was adopted or in effect," says Burney of the ban on counteroffers. The regent says she raised her concerns in a board meeting, and that Mayor Bob Lanier also had a discussion with Davenport about staying. She suggests Davenport's handling may fit into a pattern: Ivancevich, she says, replaced the school's black assistant provost, Grace Butler, and did nothing to resolve a tenure dispute that led to the departure of another African-American, musicologist Marvin Sparks. When a recent regents' discussion focused on what the school is doing to achieve diversity, Burney says she responded, "Don't tell me what you are doing, when everywhere I go in the community they tell me what you don't do."
When Randalls recently launched its "Remarkable Card" program to help nonprofit organizations raise money, Planned Parenthood could hardly wait to get involved. Developmental director Cynthia Grant filled out the application for what the grocery chain bills as its "Good Neighbor Program" and sent it off along with documentation of Planned Parenthood's 501(c)(3) status. The program assigns an account number to each charity, and members who shop at the store have the amount of their purchases credited to the group account. On a quarterly basis, Randalls donates 1 percent of the total purchases up to $20,000 to the charity, 2 percent up to $50,000 and 3 percent from $50,000 up.
Only one little problem. As Grant later learned in a phone call from Randalls's publicist Cindy Garbs, Planned Parenthood, which operates abortion clinics, did not fit CEO Randall Onstead's definition of a good neighbor. In fact, Randalls designated a whole raft of organizations -- including several anti-abortion groups -- as too political or too controversial to be included in the fundraising effort.
According to Grant, Garbs explained that the store rejected Planned Parenthood because it was too "partisan."
"If we were partisan, we couldn't have gotten a 501(c)(3)," retorted Grant. She also explained to Garbs that the money raised through the program would go to family planning and education rather than to fund abortions, and pointed out that Kroger routinely approved Planned Parenthood for its similar "Share Card" program without a quibble. Garbs apologetically admitted to Grant that Randalls's decision to ban Planned Parenthood from the program was sure to cause a ruckus.
It might have, but the ban lasted approximately two days. After Planned Parenthood officials made it clear they planned to protest the decision, Garbs met with Onstead to reconsider the selective designation of unacceptable nonprofits. "We really wrestled over this. We were trying to stay neutral," explains Garbs. "[But] we could see where that was going to be a no-win situation." Garbs says Randall Onstead consulted with his father, Robert Onstead, and decided that the Good Neighbor Program would be opened to all groups that have 501(c)(3) status.
Told of Randalls's new open-door policy, a member of the Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus promised that the grocery will soon be getting a Good Neighbor application from Out Vote, a nonprofit dedicated to getting out the gay vote. Perhaps coming soon: Randalls, your remarkable gay rights fundraiser.
The way Don Aaron is going, he could wind up looking like Mike Tyson post-Evander Holyfield if he doesn't button his lip. Aaron is an aide to state Senator John Whitmire and played cheerleader for Sylvester Turner in his libel lawsuit against Channel 13 and Wayne Dolcefino. After a jury found in favor of Turner last month, Aaron went on a verbal rampage. He first cornered Mayor Bob Lanier's right-hand man Dave Walden during a Whitmire fundraiser at a downtown hotel and began crowing about how Walden, Dolcefino and private investigator Peary Perry were going to get run out of town and might wind up as roommates. At that point, bystanders had to step between Aaron and Walden to prevent fisticuffs.
But that didn't end the trash talk. Aaron then popped off to Quanell X, an aide to state Representative Ron Wilson, at a political get-together at the Family Cafe a few weeks ago. The legislator's friendship with Dolcefino, and the fact that Wilson and his wife attended the trial to support Channel 13, apparently sent Aaron into orbit. "He was calling me a bunch of names, just ragging on me," says Wilson, who was not present for Aaron's exchange with his aide. Again, bystanders apparently had to separate Aaron and Mr. X to prevent an escalation from the verbal to the physical.
"I don't care how spirited he may be and excited he may be about jumping me," says Wilson, "but he does not want to tangle with Quan."
Aaron's boss, meanwhile, has been busy testing the waters for a possible run for mayor next year. One consultant in the know claims Whitmire is promoting himself as the sort of moderate inner-city Democrat who could attract black and Hispanic votes while running well in the Republican suburbs as a law-and-order candidate. Whitmire has chaired the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee for the last several legislative sessions while helping torpedo the first version of the politically unpopular emissions testing program for Houston. On the financing side, the senator has squirreled away a considerable war chest with the help of Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and other powerful patrons.
No less a Republican than Commissioner Steve Radack has pronounced Whitmire to be a potentially viable mayoral contender. Whitmire had attended a meeting at Mayor Bob Lanier's Huntingdon condo last month to help plot legislation to allow a referendum that could provide the mayor with another term. But that increasingly looks like a long shot, and Whitmire, not one of your more patient politicos, is raring to get on with his own effort.
But not everybody's as convinced as Whitmire that he's mayoral material, according to our source. "After he makes his pitch and leaves, people just shake their heads and say 'Man, hasn't he been reading his press clips?' " Whitmire's sweetheart contracts with the Harris County Adult Probation Department, the firefighters' pension fund and other questionable financial relationships have generated enough negative publicity to last most politicians, excepting Sylvester Turner of course, a lifetime. But maybe Whitmire figures that if Turner could win that jury over, he can do the same with the Houston electorate.
The Insider can be reached 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or e-mail him at Insider@houston-press.com.
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