In July 2016, Lance Hindt was appointed to a 5-year term as superintendent of the Katy Independent School District (ISD). It was a triumphant moment for Hindt, one that saw him come back to his hometown to head one of the largest school districts in Texas.
He began the job on October 1st and, by most accounts, his tenure was reasonably successful. He backed teacher pay raises and even drafted a $609 million bond package that won over voter approval.
However, his career took a sharp turn on March 19, 2018. On that day, during an otherwise routine school board meeting, a former classmate of Hindt, Gregory Gay, took to the podium and accused Hindt of bullying him during their time junior high school together.
Hindt was seen chuckling at the allegations, which helped cause the video of the accusations to go viral and become national news, despite the allegations being nearly 40 years old.
Hindt, for his part, denied the allegations but others came forward, including an Alabama judge, to accuse Hindt of having a bullying past. There was even a lawsuit that accused Hindt of beating a man unconscious when he was 18. The case was settled without criminal charges.
But in the midst of the bullying allegations, a new set of accusations rose to the surface. Sean Dolan, himself a former Katy ISD student and parent of children in the district, noted on his blog, A Better Legacy, similarities between Hindt’s 2012 dissertation from the University of Houston and a 2008 dissertation by Keith Rowland at Liberty University.
However, shortly after the allegations were launched, Hindt announced his resignation from the position, which took effect on January 1, 2019. According to Hindt, he and his family were the victims of an “Organized and relentless and dishonest smear campaign,” and he needed to step away for his family’s sake.
But, while his resignation announcement was met with literal cheers, what happened after added a new layer of controversy to Hindt’s story. First, the school board set aside some $25,000 to be used in a potential defamation lawsuit filed on Hindt’s behalf. Second, they gave him a two-year separation payment, estimated to be worth $750,000.
This angered many, who wondered why taxpayer money was being used to provide him approximately two years worth of salary and legal aid after he resigned. According to Dolan, the severance also resulted in a $350,000 penalty on the district issued by the state.
However, after that resignation, things went quiet. The University of Houston continued its plagiarism investigation and, in January of this year, removed the dissertation from their site. The university has not commented publicly on the reason for the removal nor whether any other action has been taken against Hindt, but the policy of the university only allows for such removals to happen under special circumstances, “including copyright violations, plagiarism or falsification of data.”
For Dolan, who has not been sued so far, this was a vindication. While it likely brings the story to a close, it is an ending that leaves more questions than answers and more problems than solutions.
The Bizarre Element
What makes the Lance Hindt case so unusual is not the allegations against him. Neither the bullying allegations nor the plagiarism allegations are, by themselves, unusual. Many people in prominent positions face allegations of a checkered past and even accusations of plagiarism in dissertations are remarkably common.
What is unusual in this case is the response by both Hindt and the Katy ISD. With both allegations, Hindt and the Katy ISD never really took the allegations seriously. Though Hindt did eventually apologize for his bullying past and admit to being a young man that “did dumb things”, that came out after details surrounding the lawsuit emerged.
Looking back to the plagiarism element, Hindt has always denied committing any plagiarism, even after Dolan and others pointed at significant portions of overlapping text. Even now, with the removal of his dissertation, he had not admitted to issues with his work and has stayed silent since the latest news.
But what is even more bizarre is the support from the Katy ISD. The school board never wavered from their support for Hindt and never seriously investigated any of the allegations against him.
At least some teachers in the district were similar, even holding a rally for him after a school board meeting.
Why this was the case is anyone’s guess. Hindt was largely responsible for a major bond referendum that brought in $609 million to the district and also helped increase teacher pay. However, even that doesn’t explain the complete lack of curiosity about the allegations.
Judging from the extensive news coverage, no one at Katy ISD investigated or even sought to significantly address the allegations. This may have ultimately harmed Hindt, who could have benefited from an impartial and transparent investigation that showed both he and the Katy ISD were taking the issues seriously.
However, it’s also a missed opportunity in other ways. One of the major criticisms of Hindt has been his handling of bullying at the Katy ISD. When revelations about his own past came out, he had an opportunity to talk openly about it, discuss what he had learned from it, why he changed and how it was going to apply those lessons to his duties.
Likewise, with the plagiarism allegations, there was an opportunity to show that the Katy ISD takes academic integrity seriously, investigate the claims independently and show students that these issues are significant. They missed that opportunity as well.
By rushing to his defense, the board and educators at the Katy ISD not only may have hastened his resignation by throwing gasoline on the firestorm around him, but they also missed some great opportunities to actually teach the students under their charge.
To be clear, the major critics of Hindt do have at least a degree of personal animosity against him. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s the victim of a smear campaign. To find that out, one has to look at the facts.
The facts seem to indicate that he is, at the very least, problematic in these areas. The lawsuit against him and the removal of his dissertation don’t necessarily prove that he was a horrible person or a rampant plagiarist, but they hint that there were issues in his past. These are issues that Hindt and the Katy ISD ignored and denied.
By not confronting these issues openly, directly and transparently, Hindt and the Katy ISD made things much worse. That’s true not just for Hindt, but for the students in the district.
And that, in turn, is what is strange about this story. That what was best for the students was never really addressed. The board and at least some of the district’s teachers rushed to protect Hindt without really addressing the issues behind the controversies.
In doing so, they missed some great opportunities to turn this controversy into something positive and only harmed everyone involved.