Thursday, December 2, 2010

University of Alabama Spokesperson Gets Caught in a Blatant Lie

Bryant-Denny Stadium

Most universities have honor codes that govern academic-integrity issues. Some require students to take courses in ethics.

So you might think that university officials would have no problem speaking honestly to the public. But you would be wrong, especially if you are talking about any of the three campuses in the University of Alabama System.

We already have written about leaders at the UA campus in Birmingham (UAB) and their problems with the truth regarding my unlawful termination. Now we have a PR person from the "mother campus" in Tuscaloosa getting nailed in a flat-out lie. And it involves the most important subject in Alabama--college football.

It all stems from last week's Iron Bowl game between Alabama and arch-rival Auburn, won by Auburn in a stirring comeback, 28-27. Going into the game, the state was aflutter with news about star Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and the possibility that Newton's father, a minister, had sought major dollars from schools hoping to sign his multi-talented son.

When Auburn took the field for pre-game warmups at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, the PA system featured some curious song selections. One was the Steve Miller Band classic, "Take the Money and Run." Another was "Son of a Preacher Man," which has been covered by numerous artists, perhaps most famously by Dusty Springfield. The references to the Cam Newton story were none too subtle.

A reporter wrote about the taunting songs, and Alabama officials reacted with righteous indignation. An unnamed part-time employee was solely responsible, university spokesperson Deborah Lane said in a statement, and he had been summarily fired. No one in UA officialdom was involved in the tasteless prank. Reported Kevin Scarbinsky, of The Birmingham News:

"Our processes require that all music and videos played in the stadium prior to and during every game be carefully scripted and approved by a senior administrator in the athletics department," Alabama public relations director Deborah Lane said in a statement.

"The former staff member deviated from the script that had been approved for the game with Auburn, and the university took steps to immediately terminate his contract."

Lane then really laid it on thick:

“The University of Alabama takes great pride in our football team's long-standing tradition of playing the game with dignity and class, and showing respect for players and coaches of opposing teams. We are disappointed when the actions of any staff member undermined our deeply held values and expectations.”

Those are high-minded words from Ms. Lane. But there is one problem--they aren't true.

According to a report in The Tuscaloosa News, at least two full-time UA staffers OK'd the pre-game music script. In fact, one was in the control booth when the songs were played.

Jason Adlman, a 2008 UA graduate who works as an area disc jockey, was identified as the fired part-timer. But he hardly acted alone. Reports the Tuscaloosa newspaper:

Justin Brant, director of Crimson Tide Productions, which oversees elements of game-day presentation at University of Alabama football games, participated in selecting the songs — “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Take the Money and Run” — and was in the control room while they were played, The Tuscaloosa News has learned.

Two people involved in UA's investigation of the incident said Brant, who was hired in July, gave approval for the songs to be played.

“I don't really want to comment on that,” Brant said when reached by telephone at his UA office. “Nothing to say.”

Yeah, I bet he didn't want to comment on that. Neither, apparently, do others connected to the "Serenade Charade" in Tuscaloosa:

Brant's supervisor, Milton Overton, did not respond to messages. Overton, the senior associate athletics director for technology advancement, has final approval of songs to be played at UA football games. The songs were not part of the approved script for the game, according to UA.

And it doesn't end there:

Another UA employee, Amy Eifler, manager of the Production House at the Center for Public Television and Radio, was also involved and worked with Brant to plan the playing of the songs before the game, according to two people involved in UA's investigation of the event. Eifler could not be reached for comment.

Did the spokesperson, Ms. Lane, want to add to her earlier bogus statement? Not exactly:

Alabama responded Tuesday night to questions about Brant's involvement with a brief e-mail from Lane: “We have no further comment.”

This all hits close to home for your humble blogger. Dale Turnbough, who signed my termination letter, used to be a PR type at the Tuscaloosa campus before she got divorced and apparently wanted to "get out of Dodge," landing safely thanks to her UA System friends at a cushy job in Birmingham (where, by the way, she's gotten divorced again.)

Dale Turnbough seems to have an estranged relationship with both husbands and the truth. In the early stages of the lawsuit regarding my termination, I've received affidavits from a number of current and former UAB officials, including Turnbough. Several of these folks made statements, under oath, that are real whoppers. We will be discussing those in future posts.

Gary Mans, who used to work under Turnbough and since has bailed out for the University of Louisville, is an example of the kind of PR types the UA System hires. When The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about my unlawful termination, which was broken in a piece by Raw Story, Mans posted the following comment on the Chronicle Web site:

President Garrison asked that I respond to you. Contrary to Mr. Shuler's statements, his termination had nothing to do with politics or any conspiracy, and the university has not been contacted by any public official or representative of such about this matter. Mr. Shuler was dismissed based solely on his work performance. Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot comment further.

Gary Mans, Director
UAB Public Relations

How false, and defamatory, was this statement? It came after UAB's own grievance committee, following an almost four-hour hearing, determined that I should not have been terminated at all. It came after my former supervisor, Pam Powell, was asked repeatedly in that hearing to present any documents she had that supported her claim that my job performance merited termination. She repeatedly said she had no such documents--no oral warnings, no written warnings, nothing that is required by university policy.

In other words, UAB's own official records showed there was no problem with my work performance under university policy. But Gary Mans falsely stated to a national and international audience that I was terminated for performance reasons.

Thinking about university spokespersons reminds me of an old joke about lawyers: How do you know a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving.


Robby Scott Hill said...

I'm not very impressed with this whole University of Alabama System myself. I've actually been hired by a half dozen law firms in the last decade, but I never made it past the first few weeks at any of them when the supervising lawyers were Alabama grads. If you don't do it or say it "the way we were taught at Alabama" you run into major problems right off the bat. Graduating from another school & going to work for a firm or gov. agency full of Alabama grads is like going to Marine Corps Boot Camp & getting assigned to an Army base which also happened to me & is a whole other story. In their eyes, you can't do anything right because you didn't learn it from their professors. I find graduates of the University of Alabama in general to be very closed minded & not willing to work with people who come from different backgrounds.

legalschnauzer said...

Sounds like a pretty arrogant and insecure bunch.

Have you ever noticed how arrogance and insecurity seem to run hand and hand? (Sorry to sound like Andy Rooney.)

MaxShelby said...

This went up December 4th on the Cleveland Fan site about our other stellar university and it's dark secrets: "The Fall of Bobby Lowder, and the fallout at Auburn"
It expands the Cam Newton story to some very interesting levels.

Robby Scott Hill said...

Yes, former Auburn Head Football Coach Terry Bowden was one of the "good lawyers" (who graduated from Cumberland, not Alabama) & who tried to stop the When Bobby Lowder's unethical practices. Terry Bowden's reward was getting fired from Auburn & losing his law license. One has to wonder how complicit members of the Alabama State Bar may have been in accepting favors from Bobby Lowder to end Terry Bowden's legal career as well as his coaching career. Back in 2003, the Alabama Department of Conservation went without a leader when Commissioner Barnett Lawley was dual hatted as the de facto President of Auburn University. I also wonder exactly how much influence Lowder had over the very lucrative oil and gas drilling contracts that Lawley began issuing after Riley appointed him Commissioner of Conservation & Natural Resources.

MaxShelby said...

Very enlightening RSH.

Would you send us an email with more details on the ADC permit issuing please?