Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Has UAB Lost Its Moral Compass?

A letter to the editor from a Birmingham architect recently caught our attention here at Legal Schnauzer.

The letter, by Kenneth Owens Jr., was titled "Appalled, but not surprised, by black UAB professor's treatment."

Owens, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, focused on the case of Horace Huntley, a long-time UAB history professor. Huntley has sued the university, claiming discriminatory treatment based on race.

Owens goes on to note UAB's spotty record of awarding design contracts to minority firms. And he points out that none of Birmingham's six minority-owned architectural firms has received significant contracts from UAB.

A number of factors might be involved in the issues that Owens raises. But I would point primarily to a crisis of leadership at UAB that dates to Charles A. McCallum's resignation as president in 1993.

McCallum initiated a number of major programs to enhance opportunities for minorities at UAB. And Dr. Joseph Volker, generally considered the "Father of UAB," helped integrate University Hospital at a time when Birmingham was riven with racial strife.

Courageous and visionary leadership, however, appears to be a thing of the past at UAB. Consider the university's three most recent full-time presidents:

* J. Claude Bennett (1993-1996)--Considered a splendid scientist and leader of UAB's Department of Medicine, Bennett was a flop as the university's president. He resigned after it was discovered that state employees were performing work at his personal residence.

* W. Ann Reynolds (1997-2002)--The university's first female president, Reynolds came from CUNY in New York with a stellar resume and a combustible personality. She was a major source of friction on the campus and exited not long after a whistleblower revealed massive research fraud at UAB. Court documents indicate that the Reynolds administration largely ignored warnings about double and triple billing of federal research programs. As a parting gift, Reynolds filed a lawsuit against the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, claiming she had been a victim of discrimination.

(Here's an interesting postscript to the Reynolds fiasco: The runnerup when she was named president was a fellow named Bernard Machen, then the provost at the University of Michigan. After being rejected by UAB, Machen became president of the University of Utah. Now, Machen is president of an institution you might have heard of in the Southeast, and he generally is considered one of the top university administrators in the country. If you are a college football fan, you certainly should be familiar with Machen. He hired Urban Meyer as coach at Utah, which recently kicked Alabama's butt in the Sugar Bowl, and then hired Meyer at the University of Florida, which kicked Alabama's butt in the SEC Championship Game. Meyer will lead the Gators against the University of Oklahoma in the national championship game tomorrow night. No wonder the UA Board of Trustees didn't want to hire Machen for the UAB campus. UAB would be kicking the Crimson Tide's butt in football!

(So why did they pick Reynolds over Machen. A source tells me that Machen made the mistake of being honest with the board. Michigan was going through a tumultuous period at the time, and Machen was essentially holding the place together, serving in two or three jobs. When UA board members asked when he could start at UAB--he generally was considered the front runner--he said he was tired from fighting battles at Michigan and would like to have a little time to recharge his batteries before starting at UAB. If I remember correctly, this was in the spring, and Machen said he would like to start around September, the start of the school year. In academic circles, that is a thoroughly reasonable request. But Reynolds said she could start right away--and why not, she was about to be ousted at CUNY. Reynolds seemed like an "eager beaver," and that's why the dolts on the UA board hired her. UAB has been headed downhill ever since.)

* Carol Garrison (2002-present)--Garrison is the first UAB alum to be named president, but it appears that had little to do with her selection. She had been provost at the University of Louisville, and she probably was chosen mainly because the UA board knew it was about to be sued by Reynolds and it wanted to hire another woman to help fight those discrimination charges. Garrison brought significant baggage with her from Louisville. Not long after her arrival at UAB, Garrison was cited in stories about unethical actions by University of Tennessee president John Shumaker. Garrison had served under Shumaker at Louisville, and the two developed a "personal relationship" that quickly became an embarrassment to UAB. An investigation of Shumaker's activities at Tennessee showed that he had used a state airplane to make personal trips to Birmingham to visit Garrison. The investigation also showed that Shumaker and Garrison had attended a conference and spent three nights together in a hotel--and Shumaker lied about it. Not only did Garrison bring personal baggage to UAB, she also apparently failed to clean up the university's problems with research fraud. A second UAB whistleblower filed a complaint with the government in 2004, two years after Garrison's arrival.

As for Kenneth Owens Jr., I think he is right to be concerned about UAB's treatment of Horace Huntley and minority-owned architectural firms. In fact, Owens and other citizens should be concerned about UAB's treatment of anyone who doesn't fit the white/male/monied Republican profile that seems to hold sway on the campus these days.

Consider the treatment of Rosalia Scripa, the first female faculty member in the School of Engineering.

Consider the fact that I was fired (after 19 years of service) for writing a progressive blog on my own time, while UAB has protected employees who have violated university policy by using state equipment to transmit bigoted and racist e-mail messages.

Now consider the fact that UAB has exalted a donor named William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, putting his family name on a new radiation oncology building. Never mind that Hazelrig has a dreadful driving record and a number of curious political and business connections to Republican powerbrokers. Hey, if you're a white Republican who can fork over $5 million, UAB thinks you are great--no matter how many times you put people's lives at risk.

Is Carol Garrison little more than a lapdog, who does the bidding of Alabama's white-elite power structure while letting a once-great university rot underneath her? Does UAB stand for anything besides "business as usual" and the power of cold, hard cash? Is it any wonder that Garrison married a wealthy retired banker named Julian Banton a few years back? Is that the only kind of world she understands or cares about?

Alabama citizens should be asking some serious questions about the "leadership" at UAB.


Anonymous said...

Just wondering, were either Garrison and/or Shumaker married at the time the two developed a "personal relationship"? :)

legalschnauzer said...

I'm pretty sure Garrison was not married at the time. News reports I've seen indicate that Shumaker was married at the time he accepted the presidency at U of Tenn, but I believe his wife initiated the divorce shortly after he took the job.