Lynn Eastham, a Texas Tech alumnus and fan of former head football coach Mike Leach, is conducting an extensive campaign, complete with a public relations specialist and a high-powered Dallas law firm, to try to show improprieties in Tech’s quest for tier-one status.
Eastham plans to visit with a state legislator to discuss his concerns over Tech’s financial stability, said Charles Hodges, Eastham’s public relations manager, who represented Team Leach — the group that formed to support the former head football coach after he was fired.
The Tech Alumni Association said Eastham graduated from Tech in 1991. Eastham, president of Eastham Forge, Inc. in Houston, did not return phone calls left at Eastham Forge, Inc., Eastham Energy, his home or with his secretary. Eastham Forge, Inc. is a subsidiary of Eastham Energy, a private oil well drilling company.
Eastham’s lawyer in this pursuit, Val Perkins of the Dallas-based law firm Gardere, Wynne, Sewell, LLP — also known as Gardere — denied Eastham was seeking to remove Tech University System Chancellor Kent Hance from his position, or that Eastham is pursuing any kind of vendetta on behalf of Leach.
“We were just hired to file the open records requests to get these documents (relating to tier-one status, the Jones AT&T stadium expansion, and financial records),” Perkins said. “Mr. Eastham was interested in revealing a variety of matters, including tier one.”
However, Lyle Setencich, Leach’s former defensive coordinator, said Eastham could possibly be pursuing this course of action on behalf of Leach.
“I don’t know whether he is or not, but it’s possible,” Setencich said. “(Leach is) very vindictive.”
Hance said there is no question that Eastham is trying to hurt him and someone else may be behind the attacks as well.
“Those guys would not be doing this on their own if they didn’t have the green light from someone else,” he said.
Setencich said Leach fired him after he told Leach he disagreed with his behavior off the field and would not support it. Setencich, who was the former head football coach at Boise State and Cal Poly, first hired Leach to coach at Cal Poly in 1987. He is currently retired and living in Nipomo, Calif.
Hodges said his client, Eastham, is planning a visit with a legislator, who Hodges refused to identify, partly to show that Chancellor Hance is misleading people when he states Tech is close to tier-one status. Hodges said documents reveal Tech is a long way away from reaching this goal.
“The chancellor tries to make it look like tier one is right around the corner,” Hodges said. “But if you listen to (Tech President Guy) Bailey’s explanation to the regents, it’s not going to be right around the corner. There’s still a lot of work that must be done.”
He said Bailey’s presentation to the Texas Tech Board of Regents in February shows Tech may be 10 to 12 years away from tier-one status, despite the fact Hance recently spread the word that Tech was close to receiving the status.
Dominic Chavez, spokesperson for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said Tech is eligible to receive funding from the National Research University Fund, pending a state audit. However, he said, reaching NRUF status is not the definition of tier one.
In fact, Chavez said, there is no clear-cut definition of tier one.
“No, there really is no definition for tier-one status,” he said. “Tier one and National Research University are synonymous, but there is no real definition for what it means. There are just a couple indicators and if an institution meets these indicators, they are generally considered tier one.”
The tier-one status to which Bailey was referring was achieving National Research University status, said Chris Cook, Tech’s managing director of communications and marketing. Cook said when Hance states Tech is near reaching tier one, he is stating NRUF is one step along the path to tier one and therefore bringing Tech very close to achieving that status.
Cook said he does not know why Eastham would be questioning the veracity of Tech’s reported information to receive NRUF funding, because all information undergoes months of internal auditing before it is sent for confirmation to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The THECB has confirmed Tech is eligible and now the university’s information is undergoing a mandatory state audit.
Throughout Eastham’s 17-month investigation, Hodges and the Gardere law firm said they found several alleged discrepancies between the criteria necessary to receive NRUF funding and the information Tech reported. Hodges said Eastham will take the information found by Gardere to a state legislator.
Perkins said they found discrepancies in Tech’s reporting on three categories: high-quality faculty, matching funding for the TRIP program and a freshman class of high academic achievement.
Tech must meet two mandatory categories, which the THECB certified Tech met, and another four out of six categories, three of which, Gardere said, Tech might have misrepresented facts.
For the discrepancy over the high-quality faculty category, Gardere said, Tech submitted questionable data about awards held by professors. To satisfy this category, the university had to show its professors won a certain number of awards and distinctions.
“Dr. Katharine Hayhoe was claimed to be a Nobel Laureate, when in fact she was simply one scientist among thousands that were part of a large group which received a Nobel prize,” Gardere stated in its summary of discrepancies.
Cook said this claim was a gross exaggeration, pointing out Hayhoe was among a group of 187 scientists, not thousands.
Chavez, of THECB, said Gardere’s complaints are entirely moot, because Tech did not even claim to have met the high-quality faculty category.
“If they misreported the faculty that’s important, but it was not a determining factor for NRUF because high-quality faculty was not one of the categories they were depending on,” he said.
For the discrepancy about the freshman class of high achievement, Gardere said, Tech may have attempted to use a different metric in determining ACT and SAT scores in order to meet the criteria.
However, Perkins said they had no proof Tech was using a different metric.
Chavez said if Tech used a different metric, it would be unimportant in determining whether Tech would have access to the NRUF funding,because there are two ways to satisfy this one requirement. Tech was able to satisfy the requirements for the category of a freshman class of high academic achievement by showing 50 percent of its incoming freshman class graduated in the top 25 percent from high school.
“The SAT question is moot too,” Chavez said. “So if there is a discrepancy in their ACT reporting, it needs to be fixed. But they qualified under this category because of the number of students in the top 25 percent of their (high school) class.”
Finally, Chavez said, Gardere’s allegation of discrepancy over Texas Research Incentive Program funding has nothing to do with NRUF, and is not even a rare occurrence.
Gardere stated Tech also might have misreported a number of donations in hopes of attaining matching funding from the TRIP, which is designed to reward research productivity through the matching of private funds.
“What they’re claiming Tech did, does happen. But that’s not something uncommon,” Chavez said. “It happens when some things don’t meet criteria to get TRIP funding. TRIP funding has nothing to do with NRUF. The TRIP funding is not part of NRUF criteria at all.”
Eastham’s initial investigation into the whole matter of Tech’s tier-one status and the university’s financial stability began Nov. 5, 2010, when Tech alumnus and former Team Leach representative Hodges filed several open records requests digging for information on behalf of an anonymous “fan of Leach,” referencing Eastham.
Becky Timmons, Team Leach’s Lubbock representative, said Hodges helped organize a Leach’s rally in Memorial Circle after Leach was fired in December 2010. However, she said, it was Hodges’ idea to dig into Tech’s financial records and file open records requests and Team Leach was not a part of the requests.
“He’s never given any of the information to me or any of the other administrators,” Timmons said. “It’s never been made public on Team Leach’s page at all. I really don’t know what that consists of. I was aware that he was doing it, but it wasn’t in our directive.”
Hodges said Leach is not behind these open records requests. He said John Gray and Ted Liggett, both he considers friends with Leach, are not behind it either.
Hodges said his first request was in response to ESPN reporter Holly Rowe’s September 2010 statement that Tommy Tuberville’s financial contribution to the university had been $25 million.
“The University told me yesterday that the financial impact of Tommy Tuberville has been $25 million,” Rowe reported. “He has been out fundraising. So when you see that Texas Tech logo, it just might mean Tommy Tuberville now 25 million.”
After the statement’s authenticity was questioned, Hodges filed an open records request on behalf of Eastham for all accounting records of Tech’s fundraising for the university since Tuberville had been hired.
Tech’s response to Hodges’ request was that the university had no documentation showing Tuberville had a $25 million impact and could not say who gave the number to Rowe.
“My clients are worried about the financial health of Texas Tech,” Hodges said. “The concerns that my clients have cover a number of different areas – debt service, the fact that the financial officer told the regents that when they go to a bond rating company they have to tell them that they’re not able to make bond payment without state funding.”
Hodges followed up with two more requests. One in November requested more information detailing financial gifts and donations to Tech, and also asked for all records that could prove reports on Tech’s website that said the university accepted $100 million in each of Chancellor Hance’s first three years of employment.
Documents provided to Hodges from Tech’s Office of the General Counsel show this statement is an understatement of Hance’s fundraising efforts during his first three years. The documents show fundraising at Tech during these years totaled $384 million.
By Hodges’ final December request, he began asking for proof of Tech’s reports of its progress toward tier-one status, which would grant the university access to millions of dollars in funding through TRIP and NRUF, both steps along the way to National Research University status.
“There are some people who have concerns about the tier-one program and what Texas Tech was trying to do,” Hodges said, “so we were just trying to get some information from the university on tier one and their status.”
Hodges said he passed the investigation on to Gardere after these three requests.
Perkins denied the firm was conducting an investigation. Even though the firm does not require a lawyer to file an open records request, he said, Gardere was solely hired to attain documents, review them and make a summary.
Gardere’s initial requests asked for proof of Tech’s progress toward tier-one status. In August 2011, Gardere requested documents demonstrating the viability of financing improvements for expansion of the Jones AT&T Stadium, which included the east side extension.
Gardere also requested the minutes for the university’s Finance and Administration Committee’s hearings since 2006. In another request, the firm asked for all audited copies of financial reports for Tech, the Texas Tech University System, the Red Raider Club, the Tech booster organization and the Tech Lettermen’s Association.
In Leach’s ongoing legal battle with Tech, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the Seventh Court of Appeals opinion that he cannot receive any monetary damages, but can pursue a declaratory judgment that his rights were violated. Leach’s attorneys, Stephen Heninger and Ted Liggett, filed a motion to consolidate Leach’s lawsuits against Tech and Craig James in the 99th District Court, with his lawsuit against ESPN and Spaeth communications in the 72nd District Court.
In a motion opposing this consolidation attempt, ESPN stated Leach has changed his story on why he was fired. The motion states Leach originally said he was fired because of a conspiracy with Board of Regent members and Tech administrators, beginning a year before Leach was fired. Now, ESPN reported Leach is arguing he was fired because of pressure from Craig James after his son, football player Adam James, suffered a concussion during practice.
Attorneys met for the hearing Wednesday before State District Judge William Sowder in the 99th District Court, who took the motion under advisement, Heninger said.
No date has been set for when Eastham will visit the unidentified state legislator, Hance said, but he is not worried about the outcome.
“They can take it to any (legislator) they want,” he said. “We’ve done it, and we’ve done it right, and we’re going to get tier-one status despite people who are full of spite and revenge.”