Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Really Ails UAB's Research Machine

UAB attracts more than $400 million a year in federal research money, and those dollars have become a driving force behind the Birmingham economy.

But The Birmingham News reports today that UAB is losing quite a few of its top researchers. Reporter Hannah Wolfson writes that UAB's "brain drain" is caused partly by strong incentive packages that states such as Georgia and Kentucky can offer top researchers.

Problems with UAB's research enterprise, however, go deeper than that. I know because I worked there for 19 years before recently being fired, apparently because I write a blog (on my own time, with my own resources) that caused discomfort for folks connected to the Bush Justice Department.

Wolfson mentions seven scientists who have left UAB in recent years, but that is only a small sampling of the researchers who have hit the exits on the Southside. And they all have not left because of attractive incentive packages from other states. Some of them, I feel certain, were aware of irregularities at UAB and wanted to get out while the gettin' was good.

People close to UAB know that the university has had, and probably still has, significant problems with the way it administers its research programs. Vast sums of research money have been mismanaged at UAB over the past 10 years or so--at least--and the local press and law-enforcement officials have done a wonderful job of looking the other way.

In fact, the willingness of local law-enforcement officials to look the other way probably has a lot to do with why the university was so willing to unlawfully terminate me. UAB owed somebody a favor, and somebody was calling in the chips.

Well, we schnauzers are not prone to looking the other way when we smell wrongdoing. And there has been serious wrongdoing in the research game at UAB. We will be spelling it out, in excruciating detail, here at Legal Schnauzer.

In a general sense, UAB has experienced a leadership vacuum since Dr. Charles A. McCallum resigned as president in 1993, apparently because he was sick of dealing with interference from the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. McCallum went on to become mayor of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and now in his early 80s, he will step down from that post at the end of 2008.

UAB was built by a series of visionary leaders--Tinsley Harrison, James Pittman, Joseph Volker, S. Richardson Hill, to name a few. McCallum is the last in a line of outstanding leaders, and that kind of vision is becoming a distant memory on Birmingham's Southside.

My little tale of woe is a tiny slice of UAB history. But it is symptomatic of a much bigger problem at one of Alabama's most important institutions. The wrongful termination of a 19-year employee, all because certain politicos don't like the truths presented in the employee's personal blog, is the kind of stupidity that would not have taken place when people like Dick Hill and Scotty McCallum were in charge at UAB.

But it did take place with Carol Garrison in charge. And a lot of dumb stuff also took place under her predecessors--Ann Reynolds and Claude Bennett. The sad truth is that UAB has had weak presidents for 15 of the past 19 years. It's a wonder I was able to work there as long as I did.

At one time, I had high hopes for Carol Garrison. For one, she is a UAB alum, with a master's degree in nursing, and I thought it was a good thing to have one of our own serve as the university's president. Garrison's personality and management style seemed to be a major improvement over that of Reynolds--of course, a wolverine from the forests of northern Michigan would have been an improvement in temperament over Reynolds.

But it seems apparent that Garrison will allow herself to be pushed around by certain political forces. And while Garrison talks a good game about ethics, evidence is mounting that she's not always the best about putting those thoughts into practice.

As for today's story, I don't normally have kind things to say about The Birmingham News and its right-wing ways. But I will give the paper and Ms. Wolfson credit for tackling an important subject with its UAB research story.

The story is interesting and addresses a number of important issues. But it doesn't really get beneath the surface of the problems connected to research at UAB.

To understand that, you will need to read Legal Schnauzer.


Anonymous said...

You don't think the gestapo like tactics they pulled to get rid of you and the publicity that followed has not hurt the ability to attract top researchers?

Shawn said...

I listen alot about UAB's Researches, but from last few year's theydont go well may be because of the administrative problem,instead of what ever is happen in the past, the reality is UAB is still like a research machine.

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