What prompted Carol Garrison to abruptly announce her resignation as president of UAB on the second day of fall classes? That seems to be the No. 1 mystery in Birmingham at the moment.
One theory has it that Garrison did not get along with Robert Witt, who was named chancellor of the University of Alabama System back in March. That might be a key component to it, but I suspect there is more to the story. Higher-ed elites often extend courtesies to each other--and one of those is an opportunity for a graceful departure. That either was not offered to Garrison, or she was in such a snit that she chose not to accept it.
Either way, she leaves in embarrassing fashion. Richard Marchase already has been named interim president, and my sources say Garrison was officially out the door and nowhere to be found by Monday of this week, just two working days after her announcement. Departures in higher ed don't come much more graceless than that.
I don't know the full story behind Garrison's hasty exit--yet. But I do know that UAB was experiencing a severe case of ethical rot on her watch. And I'm guessing that Garrison's failure to handle simple matters of right and wrong contributed to her downfall.
Two documents from my own unlawful termination speak volumes about Garrison's lack of integrity and courage.
The first is my written statement to a UAB employee committee that was chosen to hear a grievance regarding my termination. (You can view the document at the end of this post.) I submitted the written statement prior to a hearing, which lasted roughly four hours. It included oral statements from, and numerous questions to, both me and my supervisor, Pam Powell. Three other individuals--associate vice president Dale Turnbough, departmental HR officer Janice Ward, and IT analyst Sean Maher--testified at the hearing.
Probably the key issue in my written statement, and in the hearing itself, can be found near the bottom of page 3 and the top of page 4, under the heading "Insubordination." Here is what I wrote before the hearing ever took place:
I can only assume that this charge (insubordination) is based on the accusation that I have worked on my blog using UAB resources. A simple check of UAB IT records would show the facts: I've never touched the first keystroke on my blog using UAB resources. How do I know? I cannot access my blog without getting into a certain password-protected e-mail account. Without getting into that account, neither I nor anyone else can do a thing to my blog. And I have never opened that e-mail account at work. Dale Turnbough's letter of termination doesn't even allege that I've blogged at work.
What happened at the hearing? Sean Maher stated that he had been asked to monitor my computer usage for roughly a month, and he confirmed exactly what I had said--that I had never typed the first keystroke on my blog while on university time or equipment. How could I be insubordinate about something I wasn't doing in the first place?
The second document is Garrison's letter upholding my termination. You heard that right . . . the central charge against me was that I was blogging at work, UAB's own expert testified that I was not blogging at work, but I still was terminated. How can that happen? It's easy in GarrisonWorld.
A day or two after the grievance hearing, HR director Cheryl E.H. Locke summoned me to a meeting in which she said the committee had found I should not have been terminated. Under UAB policy, the HR director can accept or reject a committee's finding, and Locke said I could only return to work under three conditions: (1) I had to accept two written warnings in my file; (2) I had to accept an unspecified position in an unspecified department other than the one in which I had been working; (3) I had to quit blogging.
When I confronted Locke in writing about provision No. 3, she said it meant that I no longer could blog at work. I reminded her that the committee had found, and evidence had shown, that I never was blogging at work. Cheryl Locke was lying on this point; she told me, in the presence of two other HR types, that I would have to quit blogging in order to return to work. That is overwhelming evidence that the real reason I was fired rests with the content of this blog.
I refused to accept Locke's conditions, mainly because of the provision about two written warnings. Under university policy, an employee who gets three written warnings is automatically fired. I knew this provision was a thinly disguised attempt to get me back to work, sign away my rights on the discrimination I already had suffered, and then fire me all over again. To her credit, Locke did not deny it when I said that's what it looked like to me.
Interestingly, Locke said the two written warnings were the committee's idea. But only one issue was presented to the committee: Was my termination proper or not? And the committee found it was not. Nothing else was on the table, and nothing in university policy says a committee can impose or recommend alternative discipline.
Again, I suspect Cheryl Locke was lying; the two written warnings almost certainly were her idea--probably at Carol Garrison's insistence. When I asked to see a copy of the committee's report, Locke refused to allow it. In fact, I still haven't seen it--and I suspect that's because the committee found my firing was an utter sham, probably the worst abuse of an employee in UAB history.
Once I refused Locke's conditions, she went against her own committee and upheld my termination. That left only one option for me, within the boundaries of UAB--and that was an appeal to Garrison.
This was in summer 2008, and I held the president in high regard at that time. I genuinely thought she would do the right thing. Shows you how naive I was. Garrison summarily dismissed my appeal, and you can view her letter to me below.
Upon reading this letter, I knew the whole charade had come down on Garrison's orders, probably at the insistence of someone outside of UAB, with ties to legal and political conservatives. Not only did the president reveal herself to be ethically challenged, she also proved to be a coward.
I responded to her letter with the following e-mail, raising pointed questions about the process I had been through. Did she have the spine to address my concerns? Did she show that she cared at all about the abusive treatment of an employee on her watch? No, she didn't.
Maybe that kind of arrogance and cowardice finally caught up with her and led to her disgraceful exit from UAB. Here is the e-mail that Carol Garrison conveniently ignored:
From: Roger Shuler
Date: Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 1:10 PM
Subject: UAB termination letter
I am in receipt of your letter dated August 19, 2008, in which you inform me that you are upholding my termination. I would like to ask several questions:
* You state that you have reviewed the recommendations of the Problem Resolution Committee. I request that I be allowed to see the committee's recommendations. I find it curious that you and Cheryl Locke evidently have seen the report, but I have not--even though I am the one who filed the grievance.
* You state that you reviewed the facts upon which my complaint was based. I assume that means you reviewed the audiotapes of the grievance hearing, the one where my supervisor, Pam Powell, repeatedly answered "no" when asked if she could provide documentation to support my termination. I request that I be allowed to review these tapes. I was present for the entire hearing, and I know that no evidence was presented to support any discipline against me, much less termination. But since you and Ms. Locke evidently have had access to the tapes, it seems only fair that I be allowed to review them also.
* Were you aware, in your review, that I had filed a grievance against my supervisor roughly two weeks before I was placed on administrative leave and less than a month before I was fired? Are you aware that UAB policy clearly states that an employee is to use the grievance process without fear of penalty or reprisal? I filed a grievance and almost immediately faced rather serious reprisal--I was fired. And even your own grievance committee found that I should not have been fired. Do you or anyone else at UAB pay the slightest bit of attention to the policy that is outlined in the You & UAB Handbook? If so, how do you justify this statement in your letter: "I believe the decision to terminate your employment was correct"?
In the end, are UAB employees governed by what you and Ms. Locke "believe" or by what is outlined in the official university handbook?
One final thing: Several weeks ago, in response to citizens who had e-mailed you about my termination, you said that I was fired based "solely on work performance." You made this statement even though your own grievance committee had ruled that I shouldn't have been fired at all. Given this public statement you made some time ago, why should I (or anyone else) believe that you approached your decision in my case with any objectivity?
I look forward to your reply.
Following are my written statement to the grievance committee, and Dr. Garrison's letter stating that she was upholding my termination: