Stephen F. Austin State University president steps down months after salary bump angered community

NACOGDOCHES, Texas -- One year after approving an $85,000 pay raise for Stephen F. Austin University President Scott Gordon, the Board of Regents announced Sunday that it had "mutually agreed" to part ways with him, stating that it was in the "best interest of both parties for the employment relationship to end."

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The board announced the decision at a meeting after convening for four hours in executive session Sunday afternoon.

Board Chair Karen Gantt did not provide a reason for the decision at the meeting. She thanked Gordon for leading the university through the pandemic and his efforts with the school's $100 million capital campaign. SFA spokesperson Graham Garner said the statement read at the meeting is the only available information at this time. Gordon was not at the meeting.

The board appointed Steve Westbrook, the vice president for university affairs from 2007-20, to serve as the interim president, effective immediately. Westbrook has worked at SFA since 1981 and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the Nacogdoches university.

Gordon assumed the university presidency in the fall of 2019. He previously served as the vice provost of Eastern Washington University. His predecessor, Baker Pattillo, had served as president for more than a decade until he died in 2018.

In April 2021, the board approved an $85,000 pay bump for Gordon with an additional $25,000 increase each year for the next two years as part of a contract renegotiation. Curiously, the board signed off on the changes in the same meeting where administrators warned that the school was facing a tough economic situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, Gordon had called for voluntary retirements, academic cuts and staff furloughs to try to address a budget shortfall in 2020. Faculty said they did not receive salary increases in 2021 due to budget issues.

The university community discovered the pay increase in August, when the approved annual budget was made public, angering faculty, students and staff members.

Gordon returned the raise at a special board meeting in early September. But it did not appease faculty, who took a vote of no confidence in his leadership a few days later. Deans and department chairs issued their own statements supporting the vote. So did the SFA Staff Council.

Faculty had expressed concerns with Gordon's leadership in summer 2021 after he made broad changes to class schedules, cutting many standard 16-week courses into eight-week courses. The resolution of no confidence also accused Gordon of bullying employees on several occasions and showing "unreasonably impatient behavior both in public and private."

Board leaders organized a set of listening sessions with faculty and academic department chairs to try to address the concerns. In those meetings, faculty told The Texas Tribune that Gordon revealed he and the administration were struggling to get a handle on the university's finances.

Ultimately, the board decided at a special meeting in late September to keep him without explanation, calling on him to repair the tense relationship with faculty.

Matthew Beauregard, a SFA math and statistics professor who serves as interim chair of both the physics, engineering and astronomy department and the computer science department, indicated the relationship had remained fraught.

He said Gantt had established a meeting with department chairs, the Faculty Senate, the Staff Council, the Deans Council and the president. But Gordon never met directly with those representatives.

"I am relieved that the Board of Regents has taken the necessary steps to move our university forward," Beauregard wrote in an email. "There are exciting times ahead for our university! I am hopeful that this announcement will reinforce the unity among academic affairs as we move through this period of transition."

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