Too Small for the Two of 'Em

Two weeks ago, University of Houston Provost Ed Sheridan met with faculty and staff of the Conrad Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management to break the news that their dean, Alan T. Stutts, would be moving on to bigger and better things.

Sheridan told the group he was surprised and disappointed when Stutts, who also holds the Barron Hilton Distinguished Chair at UH, informed him he would be concluding his nine-year tenure at the end of the month.

"When Alan explained the opportunity awaiting him as a president of the largest provider of proprietary education in the United States and abroad, I realized he was making a sound career decision," said the provost.

Sheridan applauded the dean for "all he has done for the college and all he has meant to our university." According to the provost, "All of us at the University of Houston wish Dean Stutts the very best in his new position."

Sheridan might not have waxed so nostalgic had he known that Stutts's decision to quit was motivated by matters a lot more pressing than a new job. A divorce settlement signed last week by Stutts and his soon-to-be ex-spouse, UH Asian American Studies Center director Yali Zou, required that Stutts resign the deanship and all related faculty positions by December 31. Judging from Zou's pleadings, there is at least one member of the UH academic community who doesn't share in Sheridan's fond adieus for the departing dean.

The 53-year-old Stutts, an Arizona native who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, married Zou in January 1999. Born in mainland China 52 years ago, Zou graduated from Jilin University and received her master's and doctorate in education at the University of California. She is an associate professor in the UH College of Education and serves on the boards of the Third World Foundation and the Asia Society of Texas.

Zou sued for divorce earlier this year after discovering that Stutts had secretly divorced her in a proceeding in Tabasco, Mexico, in September 2000. Zou claimed the two were still living as man and wife at their Bellaire residence five months later, when Stutts finally moved out.

Her court filing claimed Stutts committed fraud by using their community assets to woo and support a new wife, Tan Xiu Feng, a Chinese national who also goes by the name Shirley Stutts:

"The respondent apparently opted for the covert Mexican divorce so that he could immediately thereafter marry another woman in China. By all accounts, respondent has in fact married a second spouse in relying on the Mexican decree without ever notifying his current spouse."

Stutts's initial defense was that Zou could not file for divorce since he had already divorced her in Mexico. Zou's attorney countered that the divorce was invalid because Zou was denied notification and due process.

In a mediated settlement in Judge Eva Guzman's family district court, Zou returned some artwork and a treadmill to Stutts, while she will keep their home and take over mortgage payments. The dean was allowed to keep various private businesses, including Global Medical Research, Medical Research LLC, Asian American Hotel Association and University Programs. Stutts paid Zou's legal fees.

Zou, in turn, promised not to interfere with the immigration status or marriage of Feng. In the next clause of the document, Stutts agreed to resign as dean by December 31.

Although the divorce action is over, Stutts still faces a state whistle-blower lawsuit by Hilton College professor Stephen Barth, who claims Stutts made illegal financial transactions as dean and retaliated against Barth after the professor reported the irregularities to UH authorities. A university audit found financial improprieties and Stutts was told to clean up his act, although he received no penalties.

Neither Stutts nor Zou returned Insider inquiries as to why his departure from UH was made a condition of the divorce settlement. She apparently decided the UH campus was far too small an arena to contain her, her ex-husband and his new Chinese bride. As for Stutts, his grade point average in personal Asian studies has nowhere to go but up.

Zou has co-authored three books, the most recent with former UH provost Henry Trueba. It is titled Ethnic Identity and Power: Cultural Contexts of Political Action in School and Society. When it comes time for a revision, her convoluted relationship and divorce from Stutts should give her a treasure trove of fresh material for a whole new chapter.

You Don't Know Jack!

Blustery, bombastic former sports authority chairman Jack Rains took the defeat of his mayoral candidate, Orlando Sanchez, especially hard. Raging Bull Rains chaired and fronted the councilman's campaign, and he is not one to sulk quietly. Last week the attorney unleashed an e-mail salvo proclaiming his guy the victim of a conspiracy by corrupt local officials and out-of-state Democratic agitators.

First off, Jack informed his readership that the mayoral race was no Republican-versus-Democrat contest. Those at the receiving end of telephone and brochure endorsements for Sanchez -- support ranged from high-profile Republicans like the Bush clan, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Texas Governor Rick Perry -- might have a little trouble accepting Rains's premise. But hey, Jack has never been one to let facts get in the way of a good rant.

Rains went on to explain that "the Sanchez movement" was really an upwelling of nonpartisan reformism by folks sick of "cronyism, as personified by [Mayor Lee] Brown." According to Jack, this was an unholy war between the forces of patronage and privilege and the principled Sanchez alliance fighting for "the soul of Houston." In Rains's book, the chief evildoer is County Commissioner El Franco Lee, who controls Republican colleagues Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole as his personal puppets.

In a particularly florid passage, Jack says Lee has succeeded former mayor Bob Lanier as the "Godfather" of Houston's Democrats: "Make no mistake. El Franco is one shrewd dude."

Members of the campaign teams discussing a possible Chris Bell endorsement of Sanchez in the runoff might detect some hypocrisy on Rains's part. One of them recalls Rains telling the group to endorse his man because in a future Sanchez administration, they would all "make a lot of fucking money." One man's cronyism is apparently another's good business.

Rains also claimed that "it was reported that 2500 out of town helpers… descended on Houston to bail Brown out." The Insider can find no reports about any army of outsiders arriving for Brown. Democratic chairman Terry McAuliffe dispatched several dozen organizers, but so did the Republican GOPAC. Rains also failed to mention the flood of national GOP cash -- which may total more than $2 million -- that flowed to Sanchez for the runoff.

Brown campaign manager Craig Varoga quips that "if King Lear had e-mail, it would be Jack Rains at ten-thirty at night sending stuff out like this. He completely doesn't get it, and there are so many things [in the e-mail] that are completely untrue." Varoga says Commissioner Lee did not fund Brown's get-out-the-vote efforts and that there were only Houstonians serving as street workers for Brown on Election Day.

"This is somebody who thought he was going to be the power behind the throne, and now he's just having a rage," sniffs Varoga. "But instead of doing it at La Griglia, he's doing it with his e-mail."

Meanwhile, Sanchez took his "movement" to a nationwide TV audience via Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect last week. His debut was less than smashing. While Maher took potshots at President George Bush and a Republican congressional candidate from Arizona played defense, Sanchez said little, seemingly content to soak up the klieg lights.

In fact, the most striking impression Sanchez made came not from anything he said but from an apparently overly generous application of blue eye shadow. It was much more noticeable than the makeup of any of the show's female guests.

Previous media reports noted that Sanchez listed makeup expenditures on his campaign reports. If he needs a job, perhaps the candidate should take a few tips from actress-cosmetics peddler Victoria Principal. He could hit the cable infomercial circuit with his own line, "The Sanchez Secret."

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Tim Fleck
Contact: Tim Fleck