"While UH falls apart the
coalition fights for its future"
Academic excellence, research mission and less
bureaucracy were the battle cries of the Coalition for Excellence. This distinguished group of academicians and researchers banded together to save a university they believed was in
peril of sinking into a sea of mediocrity.
Coalition members also asserted that UH's lobbying
efforts in Austin were fundamentally flawed, the System
should be abolished for alleged wastefulness and that reshaping had been nothing more than a farce. The group demanded
immediate action and went public with its criticisms. The fight
first came out publicly in a highly controversial piece entitled
"Crisis on Cullen Boulevard" which ran in Houston Press and
in a three-part series in The
Daily Cougar that detailed the
Coalition's problems with the
The Coalition membership was mainly concerned
that the university's research
mission was being subjugated
by President James H.
Pickering and Chancellor
Alexander Schilt. Back in the
1960s, university leaders
started moving toward the
goal of creating a world-class
university, but the current
administration seemingly has
not continued that mission,
said Kent Tedin, chairman of
the political science department. "We were concerned
that UH would turn into a large community college," he said.
If the situation does not change, Tedin said UH will go
from being the "university of your future to the university that
does not really matter."
Administration officials countered with claims that
they had not abandoned UH's research mission and with facts
that showed the increases in research funding and endowments.
Some Coalition members also saw Schilt as the
puppet master and Pickering as his puppet. They asserted that
since Pickering was appointed without a national search
THIS PAGE: Some of the Coalition members believe Pickering to be
Chancellor Schilt's puppet in any decision making process having to do with
this university. Photo by Cesar Alvarez OPPOSITE PAGE: Dean Rodgers
spoke out against the flaws in administration policy, so he was given the axe.
Photo by Mark Lacy
against the faculty's wishes and that he was, in effect, controlled by Schilt. Four group representatives appeared before
the Board of Regents last June to present the group's views. "Up
until then, there was only one channel of information to the
regents, and that was Chancellor Schilt," said Tedin.
The Coalition also demanded that the System be
abolished and its functions integrated into the campus. "It is a
nonsensical organization and it is a waste of money," said Jim
Martin, a history professor, who believes the System needlessly
duplicates activities taking places at UH.
Coalition members were upset that the university
comprises 82 percent of the System, but has the same voice as
the other System universities.
"Spending money to the System means that money is not
spent on teaching, research or
student life," said William
Fitzgibbon, the Coalition's chosen leader and a math professor. "The System is removed
from what a university is all
Perhaps the other main issue on the Coalition's agenda
was money. Complaints echoed throughout the university
that UH was in for another cut
in state appropriations because the administration's efforts, led by Schilt, in Austin
were believed to be hopelessly
flawed. Richard Murray, a
well-known political professor who specializes in Texas politics, wrote a paper condemning the current methods and
proposed a legislative strategy of his own.
His plan focused on garnering a change in the formula
and how it is funded; in addition, to hiring a lobbying firm to
lead the university efforts. Right now, Murray said, Grover
Campbell, the vice chancellor for governmental relations who
heads UH's efforts in Austin, is outmanned and outgunned.
"We have got to play politics," he said.
Skip Szylagyl, the vice president for planning, countered by saying, "We brought it on ourselves- to say the state
whacked us is wrong. Our loss is enrollment -related." Pickering
along with Szylagyl and other administrators denied the
university's effort were flawed.
On the subject of reshaping, Martin said, "We were
certainly assured that reshaping was a monumental success. It
was a monumental
waste of time." Pickering
defending reshaping by
saying that the process
was about streamlining
and cleaning up the university. Szylagyl agreed
with Pickering's assessment saying that "re-
shapingis about change.
It's not just about money.
It's not a one-shot deal."
Although Szylagyl admits some aspects of reshaping failed, he
claimed the process was
healthy and useful, he
next stop of reshaping
was slated to begin in
the following year.
former Dean of Social
Sciences Harrell Rodgers
was never a Coalition
member, his firing
sparked the Coalition
into action as some of its
members fought to restore him to his
deanship. Rodgers' beliefs closely paralleled
theirs. In letters and in
lashed out against perceived flaws in the administration's policy.
"The Chancellor and the President, wedded to the
status quo and seemingly incapable of understanding the
magnitude of our problems and failures, have articulated no
vision or long-term plan for the university," Rodgers wrote.
"Their decisions have worked toward the transmutation of UH
into a large, undistinguished teaching institution burdened by
a stifling and waste System bureaucracy."
It was for those beliefs that President James H. Pickering
fired Rodgers last August in a move that shocked and angered
many faculty members leading to an eventual uprising among
faculty members with Coalition members as leaders.
When Rodgers was first fired, four members of the
Coalition appeared before the regents in August in an unprecedented appearance to demand that the board intervene and
reinstate Rodgers to his position. The group was unsuccessful
in their last-ditch efforts since the regents refused to get
involved in the battle.
Even in the face of massive faculty dissent, Pickering
steadfastly asserted his right to hire, fire and demote university
administrators when he saw fit. Pickering said that "...the
issues of a top management team is very important to the
university. I need to have leadership from a team of deans in
whom I have complete confidence." Obviously, he no longer
had that confidence in Rodgers.
Even so, Rodgers' removal was an unusual move in
view of his many accomplishments as a dean. Deans are
traditionally only removed when there is
some question of ethical or illegal impropriety.
After the regents
refusal to intervene,
some Coalition members, who were also
Faculty Senate, took
the fight there. In an
of support for
the Faculty Senate
voted to condemn his
dismissal and demanded his reinstatement. The resolution
was introduced by
Bob Palmer, the
Cullen Professor of
History and Law, at
the request of 72 of
102 members of the
social sciences faculty.
At the next Faculty Senate meeting,
newly appointed Provost Henry Trueba a
barrage of questions
and concerns from
upset faculty members. Trueba's tried to quell the faculty
uprising since it had turned into a public relations nightmare
for Pickering. "The style of management advocated by this
administration is one we should oppose at every step," said
"The administration acted in an unprincipled way."
Palmer said. "A decent administration would never have done
this to an incoming provost. It was a firestorm waiting to
happen, and President Pickering knew what would happen."
Palmer later introduced a resolution at a November
Faculty Senate meeting that called for Pickering's censure for
his removal of Rodgers. The Senate decided to appoint a
committee to drive the issue with Pickering or try to resolve the
matter. The last and only time the Faculty Senate voted to
censure an administration official was when Schilt appointed
Pickering as president without a national search. Although
Coalition members were unsuccessful in their efforts to restore
Rodgers to his position, they succeeded in bringing to light
faculty problems and criticisms and served as lighting rod to
push the administration to take action. Rodgers took a leave of
absence and will return this year to teach in the political science
"The President and Chancellor are convinced that I do
not have faith in their major policy objectives and that I am a
supporter of the Coalition for Excellence. I plead guilty to both,"