Max Ernst Cancelled, 1975, Manual (Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom), Lent by Cronin Gallery for Photography Exhibit, Museum of Fine Arts
Chancellor dismisses dean of humanities
BY JANICE BLUE
"For the sake of academic nicety, the
matter ought to be called a reassignment," said Alfred Neumann, Chancellor
of the University of Houston at Clear
Lake City (UH/CLC).
"The word that I feel, that describes
my reality, is fired," responded Calvin
Cannon, former Dean of the UH/CLC
School of Human Sciences and Humanities.
Whether Cannon was reassigned or
fired is indeed academic. Last week he
was dean: this week he isn't.
On January 17, Neumann informed
Cannon, in a confidential letter, that
his administrative assignment would be
changed, effective February 1, from dean
to the director of special university
events, with specific responsibility for
The Dinner Party (due to open next
month on the UH/CLC campus).
"We have been urging Dean Cannon to
concentrate on his area of greatest
strength, namely, the arranging of special
exhibits and events," the chancellor said
in a prepared statement for the
Uhc/idian, the UH/CLC paper.
In response to the rumors that there
had been a mishandling of The Dinner
Party project's funds on the part of Dean
Cannon, the statement continued: "Unfortunately, the calendar year began with
certain administrative procedures, prescribed by the Board of Regents, not being followed. There was no personal
malfeasance or impropriety, however."
Neumann's first public statement,
written at the request of the campus
paper, appeared in print the week of
February 11, almost three weeks after
his letter was sent to Cannon.
The time lag contributed to the rum-
Janice Blue is an editor of Breakthrough.
ors linking Cannon's demotion to some
financial scandal. The chancellor left on
a cruise ("a postponed vacation") the
same day he mailed Cannon the confidential letter (Jan. 17). In it, he alleged
'There has recently been some evidence
concerning the transfer of gifts for the
benefit of The Dinner Party which was
handled contrary to the rules of the
university's Board of Regents in their
strictest interpretation. However, there
appears to have been a series of misunderstandings which, at best, would be difficult to clear up completely."
"All this suggests some dark, strange
complicated cloud that still lingers,"
said Cannon, reading from the letter.
It continued: "In this particular situation,
the university suffered no apparent
damage. The matter is, therefore, considered closed."
"Of course, apparent, bothers me.
But what the matter is, nobody can figure
out and that's the last I've heard," said
the deposed dean.
Cannon had expected some sort of
administrative statement early on. When
none was forthcoming, he drafted his
own, to his faculty, in which he announced another part of the transfer—
with the falKsemester he would become
a full-time faculty member in Literature.
He told the group, "I shall assume this
position with ... a sense of profound
pride in becoming your immediate colleague." He also read them the chancellor's confidential letter to him.
Shocked by the news of Cannon's demotion, some of the faculty were also
troubled that their views had not been
considered. A letter of strong support was
immediately drafted by 45 of the 51 faculty members of the School of Human
Sciences and Humanities.
But what concerned the faculty as a
body after they heard Cannon's part of
the story, was the implication of financial misdeeds.
Cannon described the matter as "an
innocent mistake." Someone donated
$2500 to The Dinner Party and their
broker called Cannon to ask if the gift
should be in the form of cash or stock.
He said, "Cash, because I've got to pay
the (exhibit's) bills," and the broker
said, "I'll need a university number."
I don't know any of these university
procedures, so I'll have you talk to someone in my office," Cannon told the broker.
"When the check arrived, my secretary
called Neumann's office and asked how
the gift should be handled. She was told
to bring it to the Chancellor's office,"
"I realized there was some agitation,
so I called the chancellor, who answered
me sternly, and said I had no authority
to sell stocks. Only three people at the
university (the president, the vice-president for financial affairs and the assistant
to the vice-president for financial affairs)
were authorized to do so. Finally he
asked me if I had ever heard of Sam
Harwell. And I said, 'Yes, I've heard
of Sam Harwell,' whereupon he hung
Sam Harwell was a UH financial
analyst, charged with scheming to defraud the university of millions of dollars. He was convicted and sentenced to
a four-year term in a federal penitentiary.
"I might have used a different comparison," Neumann allowed later, to a
Houston Chronicle reporter. He blamed
Cannon, though, for "choosing to publicize the things which I've not chosen
to do. Why should I publicize anything
negative about anyone? I don't do that."
Cannon feels the need to clear the
issue and his name because "it is dam
aging to me professionally.
"If I were to apply for an administrative position at any other university,
one of the first things they'd want to
know, of course, is Why did you leave
the university on February 1? Isn't that
a strange time to cease being dean?' Well,
yes it is. 'Well, why?' And, of course,
they'd want to talk to the people who
were my superiors."
Cannon believes that the administration has not sufficiently laid to rest
any suspicion of financial impropriety,
so Breakthrough asked Neumann (February 5):
Breakthrough: Did Dean Cannon do anything
illegal? Was it a scandal?
Neumann: It was not a scandal.
Q: Then, the (charges) have been completely
A: There will be no follow-up on that.
Q: No follow up. You're saying there is still
some suggestion of (wrongdoing)?
A: We will avoid everything we can to avoid
any repetition of the avoidance of procedure.
Q: Did Dean Cannon mishandle funds or not?
If he did, that's a scandal, and there
shouldn 't be any cover up?
A: He did not mishandle any university funds.
Q: He did not.
A: He did not follow university procedures in
the processing of funds.
Q: That sounds less severe. I'm just trying to
get this straight -
A: From the horse's mouth, that's me.
What Cannon is guilty of, according
to the chancellor, is "a disdain for administrative minutiae." Neumann gave an
"I have in my drawer here, a beautiful piece of scotch tape, which is red and
it says red tape, maybe you've seen it
advertised. That's my attitude toward
some of the paperwork, but ... I have
to follow rules. People who work in institutions have to follow routines, and it's
my unhappy duty to enforce these rules.
The dean's job is not necessarily the
visionary's role. The dean has to take care
of the minutiae, and sometimes that is
less than spectacular," he added.
Neumann maintains that university
regulations were repeatedly set aside by
Dean Cannon. "In other words, why do
I have to follow this regulation as long
as my goal is right?
"Again and again," continued the
chancellor, "there were numerous situations where rules were not followed.
If the (stock) incident had happened
as an isolated incident, we would have
said, 'Don't let this happen again,' but
there had been a two year accumulation.
"We did not choose to make any
charges," added Neumann, "and he
(Cannon) knows that I could have used
15 other things."
Neumann said that Cannon came
close to being removed from his dean-
ship two years ago, after the humanities and human sciences faculty "came
very close to recommending non-confidence in Dean Cannon." They took
a poll and the final vote was in Cannon's
favor "but not by much.
"At that particular moment, if I had
wanted to proceed, I think the overwhelming faculty would have wanted a
change. The outcome was more on the
Neumann related an anecdote. 'This
is meant facetiously: 'We decided to send
you a get-well card. We took a vote and
it was 7-6 to send you the card.' It was
not that kind of a situation, but the
poll taken by the faculty was very divided. So we're not dealing with anything
new, that happened suddenly. We're
dealing with a situation where it was