A growing body of evidence, which we will be laying out here at Legal Schnauzer, indicates that a large donor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) probably played a central role in my unlawful termination.
But my former employer is hardly alone in selling its soul. And taxpayers who help fund public universities should be asking hard questions about the power big donors exert over the supposedly pristine world of higher education.
Consider another Alabama institution, Auburn University, which is about 100 miles to the east of Birmingham, near the Georgia border. Auburn is building a new student center, which will replace the Foy Student Union.
The old building was named in 1978 for James E. Foy, a much loved dean of students who retired that year and now is 92 years old. Many alumni and students--not to mention the Foy family--want the new building to maintain the Foy name. They say the name has become synonymous with the student union at Auburn.
But the university plans to sell naming rights for the new building to the highest bidder. And the price tag is hefty. If you have a spare $25 million sitting around, you can have your name on the new Auburn student union.
Let's imagine that Auburn finds a donor named Bud Schwartz to cough up $25 million and get his name on the new student union. What kind of power will Mr. Schwartz wield on campus? What if Mr. Schwartz disagrees with a certain professor's politics and wants him fired? What if Mr. Schwartz isn't pleased with a certain administrator's religion and wants her fired? What if Mr. Schwartz has concerns that a black student could be named homecoming queen and wants to make sure that doesn't happen?
Based on my experience at UAB, our mythical Mr. Schwartz could get his way on all of these issues at Auburn. And Auburn, like UAB, is a public institution that takes taxpayer dollars and is supposed to follow federal law--not Mr. Schwartz' whims.
Let's consider Oklahoma State University. That fine institution a few years back essentially sold its entire athletic program to oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens.
After OSU received a $165 million donation, it seemed like a good idea to rename the school's football facility T. Boone Pickens Stadium. When Pickens wanted to make sure he had his own water boy in place as athletics director, it seemed like a good idea to hire Mike Holder. When former basketball coach Sean Sutton somehow ran afoul of Mr. Pickens, it seemed like a good idea to send Coach Sutton packing.
But guess what happened on Oklahoma State's road to Athletics Heaven? Old T. Boone drove his pickup into a ditch.
Funds for OSU athletics were invested in a hedge fund that Pickens controlled. And with the Bush economy going in the tank, Pickens' fund has taken a drastic turn for the worse, losing $ 1 billion this year.
Sane minds at OSU had encouraged the university to place a significant portion of the funds in safe accounts. But T. Boone wouldn't hear of it. And now it appears that virtually all of the money is gone.
Athletics programs at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Kansas now are struggling because big donors have gotten into hot water.
So listening to the guy or gal with big bucks does not always work out so well in higher education. That's a lesson that folks at UAB apparently have yet to learn.