Monday, August 11, 2008

The Real Story Behind UAB's Treasure Chest

When you work around the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for 19 years, as I did, you hear a lot about research funding.

To borrow a phrase from baseball great Reggie Jackson, research dollars are the "straw that stirs the drink" at UAB.

More than $400 million in federal dollars flow into UAB each year, helping it rank No. 3 in the South in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. Only Duke University and the University of North Carolina rank higher among Southern schools--at least according to the last figures I saw.

Since Duke and UNC both are in North Carolina, and a lot of folks don't consider the Tar Heel state to be part of the "true South," you could argue that UAB is the preeminent research institution in Dixie.

Since I was unceremoniously booted from UAB on May 19--a termination the university's own employee grievance committee found was wrongful--I've had cause (and the time) to conduct research on what makes the UAB research machine tick.

What I've found is a story of "funny numbers." And anybody who pays federal taxes--last time I checked, that's a whole lot of people--should be deeply concerned about it.

UAB's public-relations mechanism would have you believe that the university's boffo research numbers are the result of a special grant-writing brilliance that resides on Birmingham's Southside.

There's no question UAB has some superb scientists and some aggressive administrators. But my research indicates that accounting sleight-of-hand might have as much to do with UAB's whiz-bang numbers as anything else.

This all comes to mind as UAB announces the arrival of Will Ferniany as new chief executive officer of the UAB Health System. Ferniany comes to UAB from the University of Mississippi Hospitals and Health System in Jackson.

Does UAB have big plans for Ferniany? Sure sounds like it:

The system's newly named chief executive officer aims to take the University of Alabama at Birmingham from its long-standing ranking as one of the country's top 20 academic medical centers into the top 10.

As a former UAB employee of 19 years, I've been hearing that phrase for some time now--"Top 10 by 2010." Sounds magical, doesn't it?

But how did UAB get into the national top 20 in the first place? And what kind of foundation has it set as a springboard toward the top 10?

Public documents reveal a picture that isn't nearly as cute as some of UAB's slogans. In fact, these public documents reveal a story that is truly ugly--a story of fraud and greed and waste and cover ups and chicanery.

It's a story of higher education at its ugliest, and it's been unfolding on Birmingham's Southside for probably 15 years--at least.

It's also a story of federal law enforcement turning a blind eye to blatant wrongdoing. And the law-enforcement officer who let it go on just happens to have been a key figure in our story here at Legal Schnauzer.

Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that I'm no longer employed at UAB?

You probably can guess what my take is on that question. But we'll lay everything out and let you make up your own mind.

By the way, this is a story that has not been reported anywhere else. Oh, a couple of local publications have skimmed the surface of it. But the real story has been hidden in the files at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Birmingham.

We like to think we have a nose for news here at Legal Schnauzer. And we've sniffed out the documents that tell the story of some seriously "funny numbers" at UAB.

You might never think of biomedical research in general--or UAB research in particular--in the same way again.

I know I won't.

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