Monday, September 29, 2008

A Tale of Two Bloggers: A Postmortem

We recently noted that writing a progressive blog while working at a public university in Alabama can be hazardous to your career health.

Regular readers know it already has been damaging to my career; I was fired at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) on May 19, not because of any misconduct or violations of UAB policy but because I write a blog that apparently upset someone in Alabama's conservative hierarchy.

And as noted in our previous post, I was not the first progressive blogger in my office to encounter tierra infirma while working at UAB. Doug Gillett, my friend and former coworker, had a blog-related problem with university administrators back in 2004.

We have shown numerous differences between Doug's case and my situation, particularly in UAB's handling of the two matters.

Let's recap the Doug Gillett case and see what we learn from it:

* UAB exhibits an astonishing double standard when it comes to dealing with employees on blog-related matters. Doug is a good guy and a friend, and I wholeheartedly supported the decision that allowed him to keep his job. But he clearly violated UAB policy and probably violated state law. I didn't come close to violating anything. Doug still works at UAB; I got fired.

* UAB displays an appalling fondness for age discrimination. Doug was 25ish when his issue arose; I was 51. Doug received unspecified discipline; I got fired.

* The Birmingham News, not surprisingly, exhibits horrendous news judgment in Doug's case. It devotes two stories and an editorial to what most rational people would consider a non-story. This is more coverage than the News gave to a story about blatant research fraud at UAB. In fact, we will soon show you the research-fraud coverage and allow you to compare it to coverage of the Gillett case.

* Alabama's largest newspaper considers it more important that a UAB employee writes a few blog posts and comments on work time than that state judges are blatantly violating their oaths to uphold the law and costing taxpayers millions in the process. Is it little wonder that many Americans consider our state a backwater?

* The Birmingham News reports an interesting statement from Jim Sumner, head of the Alabama Ethics Commission:

Sumner said it would be unenforceable and undesirable to squelch all political speech among state employees during work hours.

"We have to strike a balance," Sumner said. "If it is on a limited basis, that is one thing."

It would be undesirable to squelch all political speech among state employees during work hours? Someone sure forgot to tell UAB President Carol Garrison. UAB's own investigation showed I had not engaged in political speech or activity on work hours, and I still got fired. And audiotaped statements by a UAB HR representative show that I clearly was fired because I write a blog dealing with the Don Siegelman case--even though I did it on my own time. What kind of balance is UAB trying to strike?

In the end, why does Doug Gillett still work at UAB and I do not? It's pretty simple, I think:

* Doug was in his mid 20s at the time his non-issue arose, and under our supervisor Pam Powell, that is a favored age class. I was 51 when my non-issue arose, and that made me expendable in Pam Powell World. Powell's preference for younger people has been obvious for most of my 12 years in the UAB Publications Office, and Powell's superiors have let it go on. In fact, they evidently have encouraged it.

* Doug wrote mainly about his opinions on his blog, and elsewhere. I wrote a lot about new facts, true citizen journalism. It's one thing to criticize Republican poo-bahs in Alabama; it's quite another to expose them for the slimeballs they are. When you do the latter, as I have done, they will try to shut you up--even if they have to break the law to do it.

How very Rovian.

And isn't it interesting that UAB, and the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, have placed themselves square in the middle of what someday should be known as the worst political scandal in American history?

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