HOUSTON - Texas Southern University's board of regents announced a mass resignation Friday, but a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry said the resignations are not what the governor wanted and asked the Senate to remove the chairwoman.
Regents Chairwoman Belinda Griffin wrote Perry on Friday on behalf of the entire board, saying they would resign when he named a replacement board. Perry had asked earlier this month for the entire board's resignation immediately so he could try to place the troubled historically black university under conservatorship.
"It looks like a pretend resignation," Perry spokesman Ted Royer said. "Continuing to function as a board is not a resignation by any means."
Royer said Perry asked the Senate to begin removal proceedings against Griffin. Such a move would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
"She does not intend to tender her immediate resignation, which is what the governor asked for," Royer said.
Gayle Barge, a spokeswoman for the regents, had no immediate comment.
Board members have said they oppose Perry's plan to place the school under a conservator, and until Friday, three of the nine regents had refused the governor's request to resign.
The announcement came on the same day that state lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow Perry to dissolve a board of regents in times of financial or administrative crisis and appoint a smaller board to institute a reform plan during a one-year tenure and submit frequent progress reports to the state. The bill was framed as an alternative to Perry's conservatorship plan, announced earlier this month.
Griffin said in her letter to Perry Friday that the board expects a replacement board to be appointed and confirmed.
"Please know that this board has been and continues to be focused on those issues that are in the best interest of Texas Southern," Griffin wrote.
Several lawmakers and many at TSU opposed the conservatorship idea because it would put the historically black university's accreditation at risk. A conservatorship is essentially a one-person board, giving the conservator the power to make managerial and financial decisions. That setup would violate an accreditation requirement that at least a five-member board govern over colleges and universities. The new legislation calls for an interim five-member board to meet that rule.
Besides degrading the value of a degree, losing accreditation would also mean that students attending the open-enrollment university would not be able to receive federal financial aid. The vast majority of TSU students receive such aid.
"I feel very good that this accomplishes the goals of the students, the community and the state when it comes to Texas Southern University," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, who introduced the measure in the House. Sens. Rodney Ellis and Royce West filed an accompanying bill in the Senate.
"For people who want accountability, it's in there," Coleman said, and "the students' degrees are protected from any action that would have tainted permanently their hard work and accomplishments."
Royer said the governor wants the "bleeding to stop," and a conservator is the only tool right now to address the problems that plague TSU. Perry would welcome the legislature giving him additional options, Royer said.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who briefly reviewed Senate bill, said: "We want legislation passed that gives the governor and the Legislature the tools to get in and clean up the gross fiscal mismanagement at TSU and restore the university to the distinguished role that it's provided for a long time."
Perry devised the conservator plan after TSU was rocked with allegations of misspending, corruption and mismanagement.
TSU's former chief financial officer, Quintin Wiggins, is on trial on charges of misusing more than $200,000 in university funds to buy furniture, landscaping and a security system for the home of then-President Priscilla Slade.
Slade, a former accounting professor, is scheduled to go on trial in August.
A report by TSU's interim chief financial officer outlined overspending, missing purchase orders and poor financial projections at the school. It highlighted flooded basements in several buildings and said the athletic program was $2 million over budget.
Also on Friday, about 75 TSU students rallied in the Capitol rotunda, wearing maroon T-shirts and carrying handmade signs that read "No to conservatorship. Yes to TSU."