The First Interim

In 1979, UH Downtown College did not have a President. Back then, all the heads of constituent universities within the UH system were called Chancellors, and the head of the system was called the President (today, for obvious reasons, we find this confusing).

UH Downtown College Chancellor J. Don Boney died unexpectedly in 1979, having only served 4 years in the office. Upon his death, the Board of Regents and President Philip Hoffman (who was, as Chancellor Khator is today, both Chancellor of Central Campus and the President of the system) began the process to find an interim chancellor for UHDC.

President Hoffman had someone in mind: Dr. Joseph Champagne, who was at the time serving as the Vice President of Academic Affairs, but had previously been Boney’s successor at HCC (Boney had been President of Houston Community College before taking the job at UHDC–Houston, at the time, was a very small community, especially academically).

The Board of Regents, however, had another person in mind: Dr. Allen Commander, the system’s lobbyist for the state and federal government. Commander had been instrumental in getting UHDC its accreditation as a four-year university just one year prior, but from the rumors, he and President Hoffman did not get along. Hoffman suspected that Commander was interested not in being the ‘interim’ Chancellor, but in taking the job permanently, and was absolutely against it. When Commander had initially approached Hoffman for the job and Hoffman turned him down, Commander then went over the President’s head, directly to the Regents.

The Regents approved Commander for the interim Chancellorship, and as a result, Hoffman was forced to resign from the Presidency that he held at UH for nearly 20 years. However, many people assumed this was simply the last straw, not the reason itself. Hoffman had always relied on the “good ol’ boy” system, but by 1980, the Board of Regents felt that strategy was outdated, and wanted more accountability and transparency from their administration. Hoffman, who had engineered the purchase of the South Texas Junior College 6 years earlier (and without explicit approval from anyone), was not inclined to give them the transparency they wanted. He resigned. Dr. Champagne went on to a successful Presidency at Oakland University and later Lamar University. Dr. Commander, after serving as Interim Chancellor, was not ultimately chosen as the new permanent Chancellor–that honor went to Dr. Alexander Schilt who would, 9 years later, be named as the Chancellor of the entire UH System. Commander, rumored to be furious, left the system entirely.

Although we have had other interim presidents, Commander was certainly the one who caused the most stir.

 

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