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UHV president ousted amid turmoil about campus' future

By Carolina Astrain
March 18, 2014 at 11:03 p.m.
Updated March 18, 2014 at 10:19 p.m.


Other upheaval at the top

UHV's No. 2 administrator, Provost Jeffrey Cass, was moved out of his position March 10 and given a special assignment.

In a news release, officials said he would lead UHV's preparation for next month's accreditation review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Neither Cass nor the new interim provost, Denise Neill, would comment about the no-confidence vote.

What does no-confidence vote mean?

A faculty no-confidence vote is largely symbolic. University administrators are not obligated to act on the vote, but Mae Kuykendall, a professor of law at Michigan State University, said in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Votes of no confidence are more likely to be effective in smaller institutional settings than in larger, more-complex universities in which the president is more remote from the faculty and the mission-related concerns of the schools differ."

Amid turmoil about the future of the University of Houston-Victoria, President Phil Castille resigned Tuesday.

Following the resignation, which took effect immediately, Castille will move into a classroom role as a tenured faculty member, according to a University of Houston System statement.

"I'm very proud to have served as UHV's president for the past two years," Castille said in a prepared statement. "We have experienced record growth, record enrollment, and we have record student applications for 2014. Our next fall class should be our greatest ever."

Castille received a no-confidence vote Friday from the Faculty Senate.

The vote came in a special meeting of the organization, which is an elected body representing the 130 full-time and 90 part-time faculty at UHV, held at the El Campo Public Library.

Castille declined to comment Tuesday about the vote but wrote an email Saturday to UHV faculty.

He characterized the vote as representing a small percentage of UHV's faculty and called it "disappointing."

Castille attributed the vote to the faculty's concerns about the recommendations approved Feb. 26 by the University of Houston System Board of Regents, which would strip UHV from its ability to offer programs in Sugar Land and transfer its School of Nursing to the University of Houston.

"I understand the Faculty Senate's frustration," Castille wrote. "They have many unanswered questions about the University of Houston Sugar Land transition, and there are many details to work out."

Castille's annual salary of $300,000, a $1,100 per month car allowance and a $100 cell allowance will continue through Aug. 17. Afterward, his salary will be reduced to a nine-month academic rate of $100,000, according to Castille's letter of resignation.

Castille will be a tenured faculty member of the UHV School of Arts and Sciences.

UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator appointed UHV Vice President for Administration Wayne Beran as acting president. The UH statement said she would appoint an interim president in the next two to three weeks and begin a search for a new president.

The move comes at a pivotal moment for UHV, which some community leaders fear is losing key funding needed to support the Victoria campus' growth.

As part of the UH Board of Regents' plan to move UHV out of the UH-Sugar Land campus, the UH System has promised to provide adequate funding for UHV's continued growth in Victoria.

"I have faith in the UH System leadership," Beran said. "Everything they're doing is in the best interest of UHV."

A UHV administrator, who requested anonymity, described the news of Castille's resignation as "somewhat of a relief."

"We've known for two weeks that something was going to happen," the UHV administrator said. "It's time to start thinking about reorganization, regrouping and about what we need to do next."

According to Castille's email, Khator and UH Vice Chancellor Paula Short are expected to visit with UHV faculty at the UH-Sugar Land campus Wednesday to provide "answers and reassurance."

The Advocate asked to attend the meeting, but it is closed to the public, UH System spokesman Richard Bonnin wrote in an email.

Khator and Short did not return repeated messages for comment.

Also in his statement Tuesday, Castille said he was grateful he was successful this month in convincing Khator to agree to allow UHV "to recruit without restrictions for the 2014-15 academic year - which is a 'count' year that drives state formula funding for the next biennium."

"Her approving my request means that UHV will have unlimited opportunities to recruit students this coming fall and spring at all UHV locations - which provides continued access and opportunity for UHV students everywhere," Castille wrote.

The move to oust Castille apparently began some time after that meeting with Khator and after the Feb. 26 Regents' vote.

At a UHV Faculty Council meeting March 7, some faculty moved to offer a vote of no confidence then, according to a faculty member present who requested anonymity.

Faculty Senate President Ron Salazar was outspoken in his opposition to Castille and said Khator called him to meet with her earlier that week, the source said.

However, associate professor Denise Neill and others argued that a no-confidence vote would destabilize the university only weeks before a scheduled visit by an accreditation team.

The no-confidence motion was then tabled.

However, the mood among some on the faculty changed the next week after Castille moved Provost Jeffrey Cass out of his position and appointed Neill as interim provost, the source said.

The Faculty Senate, which is a body elected by the full Faculty Council, called a special meeting that week.

Castille said Salazar, told him the meeting, which occurred on a university holiday, was intended only to discuss questions for Wednesday's faculty meeting with Khator.

Salazar, Neill and the Senate's secretary, Justin Bell, all declined to comment. Bell said he could not release the meeting minutes until after the Senate meets again to adopt them.

In his email to faculty, Castille characterized the problems at UHV as "growing pains."

"More than half the UHV faculty are in Sugar Land, and more than half the staff are in Victoria," he wrote. "These campuses have differing missions, clienteles and revenue models. It is a great challenge to us all to find a united way forward. I want to remind everyone how important this current juncture is for UHV and how important every voice is at this time."

Castille was hired in August 2011 after serving as special assistant to the chancellor at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. He also worked previously at UH-Downtown from 1981-94.

In his email to faculty, Castille said he was proud of the progress UHV has made since he arrived as president two years ago, pointing to enrollment records set in the fall and spring; the opening of Jaguar Suites residence hall; the start of construction of the Academic and Regional Economic Development Building and the purchase of acreage along Ben Wilson Street for campus expansion.

"We have accomplished amazing things that scarcely seemed possible when I arrived here in 2011 amid much turmoil about system change," Castille wrote.

Khator also ousted Castille's predecessor, Tim Hudson, in 2010 after he pushed hard for campus growth in Victoria. In reaction to that move by the UH System, community leaders urged state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, to file a bill to move UHV in to the Texas A&M System. That bill died in committee.

The anonymous faculty member said the latest change at the top could be traced back to the Texas A&M proposal.

"A&M would have loved the toe-hold in southwest Houston, so UH saw this as a very serious thing," the faculty member said. "Now, if we change systems, the damage to UH will be minimized."

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