Monday, October 23, 2023

State of Alabama owes Alabama A&M more than $527 million, but that "little item" appears nowhere on the agenda for this week's meeting of the board of trustees

Bands perform at the Magic City Classic

The board of trustees of Alabama A&M University (AAMU) will meet at 8 a.m. Friday (10/27/23) at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. That is on the weekend of the highly popular, and profitable, Magic City Classic football game, which will be played at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (10/28/23) at what is expected to be a packed Legion Field.

A topic that might be expected to draw considerable discussion at the board meeting -- a debt of more than $527 million the state of Alabama owes A&M due to chronic underfunding of the land-grant institution, dating to the Civil War era. But the $527 million is nowhere to be found on the board agenda, reports online investigative journalist and longtime Alabama attorney Donald Watkins. That indicates the board has no intention of discussing the debt -- or attempting to collect it -- because . . . well, the state's mostly White, Republican power structure does not want A&M to even make an attempt at collection.

Watkins calls it "a historic 'sellout' of the university to MAGA political forces in Alabama." Under the headline "Alabama A&M Board Agenda Omits Authorization to Collect $527 Million Owed to University by State," Watkins writes:

On September 18, 2023, the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the state of Alabama owes Alabama A&M University $527,280,064. According to the letter of notification:

“Unequitable funding of the 1890 institution in your state has caused a severe financial gap, in the past 30 years alone, an additional $527,280,064 would have been available for the university. These funds could have supported infrastructure and student services and would have better positioned the university to compete for research grants [ ].”

Alabama A&M is a land-grant institution that was founded to fulfill the state’s obligation to provide a "separate, but equal" educational opportunity for Black students who were excluded from admission to Auburn University's land-grant academic programs. Auburn was founded as the land-grant institution in Alabama for White students.

Governor Ivey, a Donald Trump loyalist and MAGA Republican, says the state of Alabama does not owe this money to Alabama A&M. In her mind, the university can get by with the historically inadequate funding the state provides to the school each year. However, to pacify Blacks in the state, Gov. Ivey did proclaim the month of October as "HBCU Month."

Kay Ivey is the same MAGA governor who opposed the creation of a second Black Congressional district in Alabama that was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 8, 2023, in the case of Milligan v. Allen.

Does anyone have the courage to stand up and demand that A&M be paid money it clearly is owed? We see no sign of it so far. Writes Watkins:

Alabama A&M President Daniel K. Wims is a closet MAGA Republican who surreptitiously contributes campaign money to fellow MAGA politicians in Alabama, using different variations of his name and different home addresses in Georgia. Wims privately agrees with Gov. Ivey’s position on this matter, albeit without any legal justification for this MAGA view. Reportedly, Dr. Wims has also promised Ivey that the university will take no genuine legal action to collect this $527,280,064 debt.

Wims gaslights the Alabama A&M family and state’s Black community whenever he is pressed for his views about this matter. However, Wims is firmly committed to taking no action against the state on this or any matter that will make Gov. Ivey mad at him.

The problems at A&M do not begin and end with Wims, Watkins reports:

Alabama A&M has a notoriously weak board of trustees that backs President Wims. Board members are more focused on pleasing Gov. Ivey and MAGA Republicans in the state than they are on protecting the university's interest in collecting its $527,280,064 debt from the state of Alabama.

Board Chairman Dr. Roderick D. Watts is a staunch ally of President Wims. Watts has acquiesced in Wims' conversion of Alabama A&M into a hotbed for MAGA activists, operatives, and activities.

As board chairman, Dr. Watts prepares the board meeting agenda in consultation with Wims. Dr. Watts has prepared a meeting agenda for October 27, 2023, at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center Complex – Forum G at 8 a.m. in Birmingham, Alabama. By law, the meeting is open to the public.

Chairman Watts’ meeting agenda completely omits any board resolution that authorizes the university to take strong and aggressive legal action to collect the $527,280,064 debt owed to the university by the state of Alabama. This agenda is a historic "sellout" of the university to MAGA political forces in Alabama. Gov. Ivey is very pleased with the board's agenda.

The public should not expect any "Profiles in Courage" to be on display at the meeting -- or anywhere else involving A&M, except for the courage the university's football players exhibit in taking on Alabama State for the Magic City Classic, a game that typically involves plenty of hard-hitting action. The game also features plenty of talent, with the two universities combining to send more than 30 players to the National Football League.

The Magic City Classic is as much about social activities as it is football, and Watkins says public officials likely are counting on parties, contests, concerts, and related events to distract from the sad state of affairs at Alabama A&M:

As it stands today, Alabama A&M University would rather harass former students for unpaid student debts and beg alumni for individual donations than collect its $527,280,064 debt from the state of Alabama.

The board meeting is set on the Friday of the Magic City Classic weekend. Alabama A&M's trustees honestly believe that the upcoming Magic City Classic football game is the perfect distraction for obscuring their complete failure to advance and protect Alabama A&M’s legal position in this debt-collection matter. They obviously think the parties and VIP receptions in Birmingham this weekend are more important than collecting this $527,280,064 debt.

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