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E-mails shed light on UHV dispute between Hudson, Khator

By Gabe Semenza
Oct. 2, 2010 at 5:02 a.m.
Updated Oct. 5, 2010 at 5:05 a.m.

Renu Khator

Publicly, the University of Houston System's chancellor said she reassigned Tim Hudson in August so he could help expand the system's international presence.

Renu Khator, the chancellor, even praised Hudson, who is now the former University of Houston-Victoria president.

Hundreds of university system e-mails and letters, however, suggest there is more to the story.

The correspondences show Hudson's vision for the university was not shared by many in the system, and these differing views created tension that might have led to his reassignment.

Did Hudson's push for growth cost him his job as president?

CHANCELLOR SCOLDS HUDSON

Hudson is credited by many for growing the Victoria university more than any other president before him.

Since taking the job in 2004, he pushed successfully for the school to become a four-year university, returned college athletics to Victoria after a 50-year absence and spurred record enrollment growth, to name just a few feats.

His vision, which he often shared publicly, was to turn UHV into a destination university, filled with face-to-face students and the bustle of a more traditional college setting.

Part of that vision included expanding the university and possibly building anew over time on 100 acres offered for free by a Crossroads family.

Hudson and other community leaders want UHV moved from near the center of the city, where it shares a campus with Victoria College, to undeveloped land just outside city limits. This would allow room for more students and greater opportunities, they say.

UH System officials and others in the Crossroads, however, want to expand at the existing location. Doing so is more feasible, given low face-to-face student enrollment, they say.

The UH system chancellor scolded Hudson for publicly sharing his ideas about campus expansion in a blog, e-mail records show.

The Advocate obtained about 600 UH system e-mails and letters via a public information act request.

"UHV sits on 19 acres ..." Hudson wrote in a blog published Dec. 16 on VictoriaAdvocate.com. "This makes us the smallest in terms of land size and current square footage of any public university in the state. Just for comparison, UH-Clear Lake has 523 acres; UH, 1,528 acres; Texas A&M International, 300 acres; and UT-Tyler, 655 acres."

Hudson continued: "It took UHV three decades to reach an enrollment of 2,000, but during the past five years, this has increased to nearly 3,700. Right now, we can handle the growth. But even if our growth rate slows down, we will be out of space very soon."

The bulk of UHV's campus sits on 16 acres; another portion resides on a separate three acres. Hudson noted the free land offer caught his attention, but the UH System would not accept it. Hudson envisioned the land as the foundation for a major university.

"Can that vision be realized on 16 acres surrounded by mature neighborhoods and an expanding hospital and a college?" he wrote, referring to the current campus. "Well, you tell me."

Shortly after his blog published, Hudson received a formal letter from Khator, the chancellor. As part of a glowing performance review in early January, she praised Hudson for several feats.

"It pleases me to acknowledge many accomplishments resulting from your leadership ..." Khator wrote. "I salute your work to advance UHV and make it a true regional university, complete with on-campus living, sports teams, top academic programs, and the sense of community that students seek and cherish."

But Hudson's blog - which eventually prompted Khator to scold him - had gone unnoticed at the UH system for two months, at least according to hundreds of e-mails and letters.

On Feb. 17, Hudson received an e-mail from Dennis Golden, a medical doctor and UH System regent whose tenure ended Aug. 31, 2009. Golden is now a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

"Tim, the UH System will never do much for UHV," Golden wrote in February. "They are focused on Tier One and have blinders on. As far as putting any major resources into UHV to build it into a major university, I do not see that happening."

The UH System declares one of its top priorities is for the University of Houston to achieve Tier One status - or a status that makes it available for massive amounts of research funding. Khator is also president of the University of Houston.

Last week, Golden discussed his e-mail to Hudson.

"At that particular time, that was my feeling," Golden said. "The system's major focus is still on Tier One, but that's not necessarily bad. That would elevate the status of all system institutions. It's the right thing to do for the central administration. No one denies UH should be Tier One, but not at the expense of other students at other universities we're responsible for."

Golden pointed to the UH system's denial of what he called an important program for UH Downtown, another university in the system.

"When I see they did not allow UH Downtown to have an MBA program, when clearly students would benefit, then I think that was self-serving of some people in the UH System," Golden said. "If it happened there, it could be happening other places."

'WHAT TIM HUDSON IS UP TO IN VICTORIA'

Two months after Hudson's blog published, it was circulated via e-mail within the UH System.

Khator forwarded the blog to Welcome Wilson, then chairman of the system's board of regents.

"Mr. Chairman," Khator wrote to Wilson. "I just wanted you to see what Tim Hudson is up to in Victoria."

Two hours later, Khator e-mailed Hudson to request a telephone visit. Then, she e-mailed two other system administrators.

"I called and advised Tim about this kind of blogging, particularly because, however unintentional, he is challenging his chancellor and board in public," Khator wrote.

The system had in October 2009 - two months before Hudson's blog published - declared it opposes off-campus expansion of the university.

On March 10, Khator reinforced her sentiments in another e-mail.

On April 25, Khator again scolded Hudson. Support in Victoria, after all, had grown for expanding the campus.

"You are failing in your efforts to manage the expectations of the community in Victoria," Khator wrote in an e-mail. "Let me point out that in 35 years since inception, UHV has less than 1,000 students in Victoria ... There is no documented evidence of space deficit on your campus."

Three minutes later, she e-mailed Wilson.

"Mr. Chairman," she wrote. "I am sorry but I have had enough of it."

Hudson defended himself in a follow-up e-mail, noting he agrees there is no current space deficit, but that future projections - which include enrollment growth - show there will be.

"As you point out, the number of students from the Victoria area enrolling at UHV has not grown significantly, one of the key reasons to create here a destination university that can attract students from across the region and state," Hudson wrote.

'PUT IN THE CROSSFIRE'

Clearly, Hudson pushed for growth at UHV - even after he successfully turned the school into a four-year university.

Did Hudson's push cost him his job as president?

In a letter dated Aug. 6, Khator wrote formally to Hudson.

"It is with great pleasure that I ask you to take a very important role in my UH System administration," she wrote. "I would like you to serve as special assistant to the chancellor."

Hudson's time in this newly created job will not exceed one year, his contract notes. And Khator, at her sole discretion, can end his assignment at any time.

If Khator chooses to end his assignment, Hudson will be forced to accept a paid leave and lose about 63 percent of his current monthly salary.

Hudson and Khator declined comment for this story.

Nowhere in records provided by the UH System does Hudson ask to move from president to the newly created position.

E-mail records, however, show the UH System closely followed Hudson and the Crossroads' reaction this year to his and others' ideas.

In dozens of e-mails, regents and UH System administrators tracked and discussed newspaper coverage of university expansion efforts - including the Advocate's online, unscientific polls and results.

In one example, the system tracked an Advocate story about Don Smith, who Khator appointed in August as UHV's interim president.

"Headline is excellent," Michael Rierson, a vice president at the University of Houston, wrote to Khator. "It will all blow over, especially after you and WWW/Carroll go visit them, which I imagine you will do soon. Your supporter - Michael Rierson."

It is assumed "WWW" is Welcome Wilson, the former board of regents chairman, and "Carroll" is Carroll Robertson Ray, the current chairwoman.

As for Hudson, you can argue the UH System's e-mails and letters contain no smoking gun, no definitive account that explains why he was reassigned.

Golden, the former UH regent, offered his opinion regarding the matter.

"You can't fault Tim Hudson. All presidents are pushing for their institutions," he said. "I always perceived him as a team player. He won some and lost some. When he lost, he licked his wounds and went back to work. That's a good man."

Golden said he also understands the UH System's position and focus. The system must make decisions based on the good of the entire system and not just UHV, he said.

"I think Tim Hudson was caught in a position in which he was probably getting a lot of local pressure and pressure from the system," Golden said. "He got put in the crossfire, in my opinion."


Editor's note: The University of Houston-Victoria, as well as other system universities, offer classes at the University of Houston System at Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch. A graphic with this story did not note the intricacies of this relationship.

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