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Crisis on Cullen Boulevard

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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.]"

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Tim Fleck
Contact: Tim Fleck