Dos and Don'ts for Incoming Texas Southern University President Austin Lane

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Earlier this week, Texas Southern University announced that Dr. Austin A. Lane, a Lone Star College executive vice chancellor, is slated to become TSU’s 12th president starting in early June. He’ll replace Dr. John Rudley, who announced in December that he would be stepping down at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year.

Assuming the school’s board of regents okays the appointment, Lane, who served as president of the Lone Star College-Montgomery campus from 2009 to 2015, will have his hands full.

Though Rudley, hired in 2008, helped the once proud, historically black college move past the insane Priscilla Slade disaster and an accreditation-removal threat, the business-minded president was also in charge during several debacles that attracted nationwide scorn.

We want to see TSU succeed and permanently distance itself from its perma-scandal reputation. Dr. Lane – who has worked in higher education all over Texas, including at Sam Houston State, the University of Texas at Arlington, and Tyler Junior College – seems to have the credentials to do exactly that.

He should also stick to the following:

Don’t spend school funds on house primping
It’s cool, especially after landing a high-paying job, to doll up a house with new furniture, fancy landscaping touches and a security system.

Using a boatload of cash from a financially struggling institution? Not cool one bit, dude.

That’s what Priscilla Slade, who allegedly misused more than $500,000 of TSU’s money for personal expenses, was accused of doing in June 2006. Instead of serving time, the disgraced leader was forced by a June 2008 plea agreement to pay back $127,672. She was also placed on ten years of deferred adjudication.

Owing to the ultimate cluster you-know-what, TSU was under threat of losing its accreditation.

Put the permanent kibosh on band hazing
In September 2012, several veteran trumpeters of the beloved Ocean of Soul marching band were accused of paddling rookie band members, resulting in the expulsion of ten folks from the group. The entire Ocean of Soul band was also temporarily banned from football-game performances.

Although the university decided not to pursue criminal charges – hazing is a crime under Texas law – the scandal for the band, which has performed in several Super Bowls, became a countrywide embarrassment. It also didn’t help that the original hazing incident took place during (doh!) National Hazing Prevention Week and (sadly) a year after the hazing death of Florida A&M University’s drum major. 

Make sure the athletic programs behave like perfect angels during their in-progress probation (and beyond)
A month after the hazing episode in October 2012, and following a lengthy compliance probe by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, TSU’s football and men’s basketball programs were placed on a five-year probation. The punishment banned the programs from postseason competition and cut into the school’s allotment of athletic scholarships.

Perhaps more concerning: The NCAA considered the death penalty, the knife-to-the-throat, rough treatment that took down the Southern Methodist University football program in the 1980s.

Though it's not super-likely, the sports team could get out of NCAA jail early for good behavior. Either way, the actions of TSU athletes, staff and athletic director Dr. Charles McClelland need to be held in check by Dr. Lane.

Don’t send the school further into an admissions free-fall 
In 2014, TSU’s bond rating was downgraded following a nearly 10 percent decrease in enrollment that left the school in a $7 million hole, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service. Though it’s not the end of the world, the pattern, if it continues or gets worse, is concerning.

According to the tenor of a TSU press release, beefing up student enrollment is exactly why Lane was hired.

During his time at LSC-Montgomery, Lane – who holds an undergraduate degree from Langston University in Oklahoma, a master’s from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate in higher-education administration from the University of Alabama – increased enrollment by 20 percent. Additionally, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board figures show that the number of awarded degrees nearly doubled during his six-year stint as LSC-Montgomery president.

Shout from the rooftops about the jazz program. And don’t awaken the Concerned Legends of KTSU.
For years, under the direction of Horace Alexander Young and later Joe Sample, TSU’s jazz program was tearing it up. (We profiled Young, The Crusaders co-founder, and the TSU jazz department back in 2013.)

Sadly, Sample left the planet in September 2014, and in 2015, Young went to the Santa Fe University of Art and Design to run that school’s contemporary music department.

Music is legion at TSU. If Dr. Lane wants to try to bring in other heavy-hitting faculty to teach jazz in a program founded by the legendary Howard Harris, then he can do it. He’s about to be the boss, after all.

As for the once glorious KTSU, it’s best to leave that situation alone — or else the ghosts of the Concerned Legends of KTSU might re-emerge.

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