Yesterday's announcement that Carol Garrison is stepping down as president of UAB is the best news to come out of Birmingham in a long time. Given the university's status as our state's No. 1 driver of economic activity, it should be good news for all Alabamians.
Garrison and her corrupt administration have been a drag on UAB for 10 years, and her ouster comes about nine years too late. But it's doubtful that Garrison has left any irreparable damage, and now UAB has an opportunity to get back on the upward path that once made it a shining success story for higher education in the Deep South.
What were the circumstances behind Garrison's exit? The answer to that question is not fully clear, but I saw signs about a month ago that she might be floating her name for other presidential jobs. If that was the case, it means Garrison was forced out--and her departure has been in the works for a while.
What makes me think that? Well, here is the pertinent portion of an e-mail I wrote to a friend on July 14:
I had an interesting visitor to my blog today. Someone from Tennessee State University in Nashville has spent about 2 1/2 hours looking up stuff on Carol Garrison and John Shumaker, her old boyfriend who got canned at UT.
They seem to be searching mainly on Garrison, but it's hard to tell for sure because a lot of my posts about her also include info about him.
I Googled "Tennessee State presidential search," and here is what popped up:
What does this tell us? Someone at Tennessee State University in Nashville was doing extensive research on Carol Garrison, John Shumaker, or both--and the university did, in fact, have a presidential search under way at the time. Here are some other key points from my e-mail of about a month ago:
They do have a presidential search going on, and it started in May. Is it possible that Garrison knows she's on the way out at UAB and is floating her name at various schools? Could Shumaker be trying to get back into the higher-ed game? Not sure what he's been doing.
TSU, of course, is a historically black university, so it's hard to see them going for either Garrison or Shumaker. But who knows what might happen these days. Thought I would share.
Checking searches on your blog can provide interesting clues sometimes. I saw signs that Cheryl Locke was heading from UAB to Wake Forest, and that Gary Mans was headed from UAB to Louisville, based on searches that landed on Legal Schnauzer.
(Memo to UAB employees: Don't piss me off. If I write negative things about you, I have a strong presence on search engines--and any possible future employer is likely to track down my work. I also have a battalion of devoted readers from UAB, and they pass me more information about unscrupulous and dysfunctional managers than you might imagine. My posts about Locke and Mans mainly pointed out that they apparently were forced to take directions from a corrupt president, so I don't think that hampered their career moves. But you might not want to tempt fate by getting on the Schnauzer's bad side. Grrr.)
To be sure, analyzing blog statistics is as much art as science--and we do not have all the facts on what prompted yesterday's announcement. But the available information tells me that Carol Garrison probably was forced out, and she's known her fate for at least a couple of months.
Still, we have this question: Why would a university president announce that she is stepping down on the second day of fall classes? Even though Garrison was a horribly weak leader, the curious timing of her announcement is bound to cause uncertainty for UAB faculty, staff, and students--at a time when a campus is supposed to be flush with the optimism of a new academic year.
I feel certain that Garrison was told some time ago that her services were no longer required, and she's been dipping a toe in the presidential job market. But why not make the announcement, say, in late October/early November and have her leave office between semesters? It's not as if she suddenly became a bad president; she's been a bad president for 10 years, so why the rush? Did something happen in recent days to make UAB act in haste? If so, what was it?
Regardless of what prompted it, Garrison's exit is undeniably good news. During her first year at UAB, Garrison was tied to a scandal that ultimately cost University of Tennessee President John Shumaker his job. I wrote a four-part series on that seedy soap opera, which involved at least two instances of Garrison and Shumaker wasting taxpayer dollars while carrying on an affair. Garrison almost certainly would have been canned had UAB not already been looking at a lawsuit from her predecessor, W. Ann Reynolds.
Am I a disinterested observer in all of this? Not in the least. I worked at UAB in various editorial positions for 19 years before being unlawfully terminated in May 2008, roughly one year after I started writing a blog--on my own time, with my own resources--about legal and political corruption in Alabama. I know for a fact that I was cheated out of my job because of the content on this blog about the prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman. How do I know that? A UAB human-resources official named Anita Bonasera told me in a phone conversation that I tape recorded after I had been placed on administrative leave. (See video at the end of this post.)
I have no doubt that someone in conservative political circles felt threatened by my citizen journalism, realized I worked at a state institution, and demanded that I be fired. The demand made its way, directly or indirectly, to Garrison and she went along with it--firing an employee simply for exercising his First Amendment rights to report and comment on matters of public interest. How is that for moral courage?
Do I hold Carol Garrison in utter contempt? Yes, I do. But my wrongful termination, plus Garrison's unseemly dalliance with Shumaker, are just two specks of dirt in a mountain of evidence that shows she needed to go. Let's consider a partial list of misconduct that took place on Garrison's watch, from a post titled "UAB Sleaze Doesn't Happen in a Vacuum":
It's difficult to keep up with all the UAB sleaze under Garrison, but here is our best effort at an updated and comprehensive list. . . .
* Nine papers written by scientist H.M. Krishna Murthy are retracted because of concerns about academic fraud;
* Researchers Juan R. Contreras and Judith M. Thomas are barred from receiving federal funds after falsifying results from animal studies;
* School of Medicine Dean Robert Rich steps down under mysterious circumstances, in the wake of multiple reports about fraud and discrimination that took place on his watch;
* A University of Louisville dean, who has ties to UAB 's Carol Garrison from her days as provost at U of L, pleads guilty to fraud-related charges and is sentenced to 63 months in federal prison;
* Longtime engineering professor Rosalia Scripa files a discrimination lawsuit;
* Longtime history professor Horace Huntley files a discrimination lawsuit;
* Longtime business professor Susan Key files a discrimination lawsuit;
* Longtime business professor Glenn Feldman files a discrimination lawsuit, as does engineering faculty member Petru Simionescu; (These were not included on my original list, but I'm adding them here.)
* Former trainee Seema Gupta files a lawsuit claiming widespread discrimination against international medical graduates in UAB's Family Medicine Residency Program in Huntsville;
* A company owned by a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, is found to have been involved in insurance fraud;
* An office associate uses a university computer to send a hate-filled e-mail to a California gay-rights group. UAB announces no disciplinary action against the female employee;
* A financial associate uses a university computer to send a racist e-mail that mocks President Obama and other major Democrats. UAB announces no disciplinary action against the female employee;
* A federal lawsuit alleges that UAB's Office of Public Relations and Marketing unlawfully used copyrighted illustrations in various print publications and on the university's Web site;
* A prominent donor, with strong ties to Republican Party politics, has a lengthy history of driving-related arrests and questionable business practices;
* Several UAB medical professionals have ties to a company owned by attorney Rob Riley (son of GOP Governor Bob Riley), which has been accused in federal-court documents of practicing health-care fraud;
* UAB settles a federal whistleblower lawsuit that alleges some $600 million in fraud over a 10-year period;
* In her first year on the job, President Garrison embarrasses the university by playing a prominent role in a scandal that led to the ouster of University of Tennessee President John Shumaker.
Garrison's handling of my situation is clear proof that she has shaky ethics, at best (nonexistent, at worst). Given the rot at the top of the UAB pyramid for 10 years, it's little wonder that an overpowering stench has been emanating from down below.
Should UAB boosters be hopeful today? Yes, but with plenty of caution. The University of Alabama Board of Trustees, under President Paul Bryant Jr., will be naming Garrison's successor. Given that Bryant has documented ties to massive insurance fraud, one cannot assume that UAB is heading for an ethically crystalline future.
Garrison's exit, however, was overdue. With that out of the way, UAB at least has a fighting chance to move forward.
How ethically challenged has UAB been under Garrison's "leadership"? You can check out the following video, with indisputable evidence of the moral rot that has permeated Alabama's most important institution for far too long.