As an “insider’s look” at the transfer from South Texas Junior College to UHD, a guest post from Dr. Garna Christian on a mysterious and notorious President of STJC, David Reagan:
David Reagan did not assume the presidency of South Texas Junior College in the early1970s as a knight in shining armor, but he did “tool around” in a fast red sports car.
He might have been confused with Sir Lancelot for good reason: bright, young, and personable, Dr. Reagan convinced the anxious college board that he was the man to guide the once prosperous, now faltering, downtown school through an unusually rough patch in its twenty-plus-year history. Created in the optimistic post World War II period, the sister of South Texas College of Law outperformed its expectations. One of only several institutions of higher learning accommodating the general Houston public, STJC outgrew its quarters in the parent YMCA at 1600 Louisiana and moved into the cavernous Merchants and Manufacturers building in 1967. The Vietnam War pushed attendance to the highest of any private two year college in the state. However, the cost of acquiring the building combined with a slack in enrollment as the war wound down placed the school in a precarious financial position. The new Houston Community College system offered a variety of locations at low tuition to prospective students. President W.I. Dykes, fatigued by years of managing STJC and the fragile health of his wife, was open to retirement.
The college board doubtless picked the most vibrant candidate available. Reagan exuded energy and confidence and the determination to breathe new life into the institution. He clearly perceived the faculty as, at best, lethargic. The new president resolved to reinvigorate his charges. In the first faculty meeting he challenged them to speculate on how many uses one could find for a pencil. He followed this novel beginning by doubling efforts during registration. Two profs returned from a brief lunch to read a note on the door: “I was here! Where were you?” He closed the faculty lounge to misdirected teachers loitering between classes. Reagan and his imported aides pressed the departmental chairs to keep their members in line, dividing the faculty. Conversations became suspect. At a faculty meeting an attendee accused another of plotting with an administration official. The accused denied the allegation and went to work for the community college. A subsequent meeting found the faculty in open rebellion, laying plans to protest the administration to the board, donors, and to High Heaven. Reportedly, a well placed prof went to one of the college’s most generous benefactors and moved him to carry the message to the board. Reagan was immediately removed from the presidency and, rather as in the reverse of a Hollywood Western, Dr. Dykes rode in from the sunset to temporarily take the reins.
Already seeking a merger and inspired more so by recent events, Dr. Dykes assumed negotiations with the Houston Community College. The talks reputedly broke down when HCC would not promise to retain the faculty and staff. Ever the caring father, Dykes would not sacrifice individuals for the benefits of the deal. Against such prolonged drama, it seemed perfectly reasonable when a deus ex machina appeared in the form of University of Houston president Dr. Philip Hoffman, a true knight, seeking a downtown campus to replace a lost business school. In the end, all contributed to the formation of the University of Houston-Downtown, albeit some in a bizarre fashion.