Monday, July 28, 2008

Final Questions for UAB's President--For Now

In two previous posts, which can be read here and here, we posed a number of questions about my termination for UAB President Carol Garrison.

These questions were prompted by the public statement Garrison and her trusty PR guy Gary Mans distributed to folks who had voiced concerns about my firing. As I've noted previously, I'm sure Garrison and Mans would be delighted to hear from you if you would like to pose my questions, or some of your own, regarding their actions in my case. They can be reached at:

Carol Garrison:; 934-4636

Gary Mans:; 934-3884

So let's ponder a few more questions for Dr. Garrison, who serves as chief executive of an institution that receives more than $400 million a year in federal taxpayer dollars:

* As part of its core curriculum, UAB has an Ethics and Civic Responsibility (ECR) requirement for its students. You, Dr. Garrison, have enthusiastically pushed this initiative. The goal of the ECR program is stated as follows:

Ethics and Civic Responsibility (ECR)
The role of a university is to prepare students to function effectively and engage responsibly in both the academic community and post-graduation life. Excellence and integrity should be academic, personal, and professional goals for everyone. Effective and responsible living depends upon the ability of individuals to strive for excellence, to make informed and ethical decisions, to accept responsibility for one’s choices, and to practice good citizenship as part of multiple larger social units.

Part of the ECR effort is a campuswide "discussion book" program, which you have encouraged UAB students, faculty, and staff to participate in. You have touted this as part of your Quality Enhancement Plan for UAB.

The discussion book for 2008 is Field Notes From a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert. Previous discussion books have been The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (2005), The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2006), and All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg (2007).

I was a UAB employee at the time you announced your discussion-book initiative, and I thought it was a terrific idea. In fact, I've read two of the four books in the series and have the other two on my "Read This, Pronto" list.

Now that I've been cheated out of my job at UAB, I wonder about your plans to promote "ethics and civic responsibility" on the UAB campus. And the word hypocrisy creeps into my mind.

While you promote ethics and responsibility for UAB faculty, staff, and students, I wonder about the ethics of the president's office--and the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor's Office, which oversees the University of Alabama System. It appears that ethics is promoted for the "commoners" in the UAB community, but they do not seem to apply at the upper reaches of the university structure--where you reside?

How do you square your promotion of an ECR program with your own behavior in my case? Do you feel like a hypocrite--even just a little?

* Here's a question I really wrestle with. As a middle-class guy who struggles to make it from paycheck to paycheck (or, now, unemployment check to unemployment check), I can't imagine what it is like to have it pretty much made financially.

From where I sit, you appear to be financially set--whether you remain UAB president for the long term or not. I'm sure you enjoy the power and prestige that comes with your elevated position. I'm sure you value the core tasks, challenges, and relationships that come with working in an academic environment. (I, too, enjoyed the tasks, challenges, and relationships of my job--until I was cheated out of it.) And I'm sure the $487,620 that UAB pays you annually comes in handy.

But your financial picture goes well beyond your UAB salary. A couple of years ago, you married a gentleman named Julian Banton, who is retired as president of SouthTrust Corporation and CEO of SouthTrust Bank. Mr. Banton has been a generous supporter of UAB and other worthy causes, and I think its safe to say his net worth runs into the several millions. It's pretty clear that Mr. Banton runs in the kind of financial circles with which most regular folks are not familiar.

So here is what I don't get about you: Why would someone of your financial means let themselves be pressured into unlawfully firing a 19-year employee who had done nothing to merit discipline of any kind, much less termination? I don't know what it's like to walk in your shoes. But if I were in your shoes, and someone pressured me to unlawfully fire one of my employees, I think I would tell the person, "Go to hell."

If you have the kind of ethics that you espouse for other UAB employees, that's certainly what you should have said. But evidently you did not say that. And news reports indicate you have allowed yourself to be pressured before.

When UAB was in the market for a new football coach two years, it was widely reported that the university was set to hire LSU assistant coach Jimbo Fisher, considered by many to be a rising star in the coaching ranks. Instead, UAB wound up hiring Georgia assistant Neil Callaway, a University of Alabama alumnus and former player for UA coaching icon Paul "Bear" Bryant. News reports stated that UA Chancellor Malcolm Portera and the Board of Trustees, led by Bryant's son Paul W. Bryant Jr., pressured UAB into hiring Callaway rather than Fisher. You evidently caved in, and Neil Callaway is now UAB's head coach. Jimbo Fisher is at Florida State, where he is designated to follow legendary head coach Bobby Bowden upon Bowden's retirement.
(A personal note: I think UAB wound up with a good football coach in Neil Callaway. I got to know Coach Callaway in the mid to late 1980s when he was an assistant at Auburn University, and I was Auburn beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He impressed me as a solid, no-nonsense coach then, and I thought he did a good job last year of getting UAB's program turned back in the right direction, providing much needed discipline and stability to a team that had gone off the tracks in recent years.)

I think there is a good chance that UAB football will thrive under Neil Callaway. But that's not the point here. The point is that you apparently caved in to pressure from Paul Bryant Jr. and Malcolm Portera. As a result, UAB did not hire the coach it really wanted to hire.

And my question again is why didn't you tell them to "go to hell." What were they going to do, fire you? They already had a discrimination lawsuit hanging over their heads from the exit of their previous female president, Ann Reynolds. You think they wanted another lawsuit, from their second female president? And even if they did fire you, so what? You're married to a gazillionnaire.

If you can't have some spine when you are married to a wealthy dude, when can you have some spine? And speaking of Bryant Jr. and Portera, I'm wondering if they--or someone in their general clan--provided some pressure for you to fire me?


* In your public statement, you said that I was not fired because of politics. But Anita Bonasera, your own director of employee relations, stated in an audiotaped conversation that the "investigation" of my computer use at UAB indeed was prompted by political considerations--that I write a personal blog having to do with the Don Siegelman case. If you haven't heard that audio, you can check it out here. How do you square your statement with a statement from your own employee relations director indicating that my termination was driven by politics?

* I noted in a earlier post that you seem to have adopted the management style of Republican strategist Karl Rove. Given that Mr. Rove almost certainly has committed federal crimes in promoting political prosecutions by the Bush Justice Department, you shouldn't take that as a compliment. Your public statement has a Rovian quality throughout. For example, you say you haven't been contacted by any public officials or representatives of such regarding my termination. But that doesn't answer this question: Were you pressured by Malcolm Portera, Paul Bryant Jr., or some other representative of the Board of Trustees or Chancellor's Office for which you serve? Your statement reminds me of Rove's not-so-clever written statement that doesn't address whether he consulted Alabama operatives such as Bill Canary and Rob Riley regarding the Siegelman prosecution.

On the one hand, you are promoting ethics and responsibility for the UAB community. But on the other hand, regarding my termination, you seem to be behaving like Karl Rove--a name not often associated with ethics and responsibility.

Do you see a disconnect there?

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