The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) lost a basketball game last night. The university also might have lost what little was left of its good name.
UAB lost to No. 5 Memphis before a packed Bartow Arena. Blazer fans, perhaps distraught at seeing their chances for an NCAA Tournament berth take a direct hit, apparently decided to take out their frustrations on journalist and radio talk-show host Paul Finebaum.
The Capstone Report, a Web site devoted to news and commentary about University of Alabama athletics, reports that Finebaum received abusive treatment when he appeared for last night's UAB game. The article states that Finebaum was greeted with booing, F-bombs and other profanities, and a variety of crude gestures.
What was Finebaum's great sin? In recent days he apparently had made a number of critical comments about UAB President Carol Garrison and her leadership, or lack thereof, at the university.
I've only heard snippets of Finebaum's highly rated radio show in recent days, but sources told us that he has focused on, among other things, stories about Garrison's relationship with former University of Tennessee president John Shumaker.
Those stories began to surface about a year after Garrison arrived at UAB in 2002. Garrison and Shumaker had worked together at the University of Louisville, where he was president and she was provost.
When Shumaker interviewed for the Tennessee job in 2002, his wife Lucy was at his side through the whole process. But when Shumaker was hired and reported for work in Knoxville, Mrs. Shumaker did not accompany him. That's because she was back in Louisville, preparing a lawsuit for divorce.
Interestingly, when Garrison became UAB's president, Shumaker started using Tennessee's university plane to make numerous trips to Birmingham. Turns out those trips had mostly to do with Shumaker's "personal relationship" with Garrison, not university business.
Later, news reports revealed that Shumaker and Garrison had shared a hotel room at a conference in San Antonio, and Shumaker had lied to Tennessee officials about the nature of the arrangement.
No wonder Lucy Shumaker was filing for divorce.
Shumaker reimbursed Tennessee for the improper personal expenses, but he wound up resigning amid a boiling scandal--with Carol Garrison at the center of it.
Garrison kept her job at UAB, but she brought the university enormous embarrassment. How did Garrison manage to remain as president? My sources say UA System Chancellor Malcolm Portera stood by her, probably because UAB's previous president, W. Ann Reynolds, already was preparing a discrimination lawsuit--and Portera didn't want another female president to leave under uncomfortable circumstances.
If Finebaum criticized Garrison for the Shumaker affair, he was right on target. Consider what she did:
* She engaged in a scheme to waste taxpayer funds on personal business. Is that any less of a problem just because the money came from Tennessee taxpayers? I don't think so.
* She engaged in a scheme to cover up hanky panky on a "business trip," again involving misuse of taxpayer funds.
Those issues are a matter of public record, and Finebaum has every right to call Garrison's ethics and leadership into question. If UAB fans don't like that, maybe they should push for the university to hire a president who conducts him or herself in an ethical manner.
From where I sit, it appears Finebaum has gone easy on Garrison. Consider other topics he could have brought up:
* Myriad human-resources problems, including a growing list of lawsuits by veteran faculty and staff members;
* Rampant research fraud that started under previous presidents and, based on court documents, continued under Garrison;
* UAB employees who have used state-owned equipment to send racist and anti-gay e-mails, apparently without receiving any significant punishment;
* UAB's human-resources director, who recently left for a lesser job under curious circumstances.
If Finebaum really wants to take off the gloves and go after Garrison--and the rising level of sleaze on Birmingham's Southside--he has plenty of ammunition.