From SACS Principles of Accreditation:

From SACS Principles of Accreditation: 3.2.11 The institution’s chief executive officer has ultimate responsibility for, and exercises appropriate administrative and fiscal control over, the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program. (Control of intercollegiate athletics)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Same but Different. Or, Different but Different

By Ralph Harbison

This is not the post that I had planned to put up on this site today. That post is coming and is about a few people near and dear to the hearts of the UAB Family. Things can happen quickly, though, and this post is more timely and, honestly, more needed.

Imagine for a minute this scenario. There is an issue at a university that is, for lack of a better term, part of the culture of the institution. That issue has been ignored for years and never really addressed. Finally, there is a manifestation of that issue that leads to a major situation with the football team and serious student outrage. The social media storm ramps up into full-blown battle mode, the students and alumni (and a shocking number of the faculty who can speak out) are at DEFCON 1, and all sorts of activism hell breaks loose. The media is involved and runs into issues with some of the school’s employees over issues of access. Almost as suddenly, some of the demands are met and everyone calms down some.

What I just described to you is the UAB story, right?

Wrong.

This is the story of the University of Missouri, or one presentation of it.

It is somewhat natural to compare the recent UAB events to the Mizzou story, and, to be honest, we should look at both stories. To be fair and honest, the entire story of the Watts era at UAB has not been told and is not over, so it is not time. Likewise, the entire story about the recent events at the University of Missouri has not been told and is not over, so it is not time. But, humans love to just jump into the story, no matter what chapter it is on or it is finished at all, and I am no exception.

To recap the University of Missouri (from here on UM) story, there have been recent claims that there is an increase in racially charged episodes on campus. Many of the protesters claim that the entire school has been awash in a culture of sexism and racism for decades. Some of this is fueled by hyper-sensitivity to racial events since the issues in Ferguson, Missouri, over the past year.

You need to understand that while the sensitivity might be heightened, you cannot dismiss the claims just because of that. Perception changes with outside stimuli. If people are more attuned to certain words, phrases, or actions, they are more likely to notice them. One cannot dismiss these claims as being fake or “blown out of proportion” without examining the entirety of the facts. As the tensions grew, and more and more students joined into the protest movement, the school president did take some steps to resolve the problem, but they were seen as too little, too late.

After an incident during the Homecoming parade, the president was placed directly in the anger crosshairs, and the demands started to include his termination. With one graduate student in a hunger strike, members of the football team announced that they would boycott any football activities until the issues were resolved and the president was gone. The majority of the football team joined with the boycotting group, and the coach tweeted a statement that the team was unified, indicating to most that the team will not play out the rest of their season. Within 72 hours, the president had resigned, followed by the chancellor.

Now, when we look at the UAB situation, we have a group of students and supporters who have claimed that a hostile culture exists within the system, and that hostility is directed at UAB and the UAB Family. For the most part, those claims were ignored or marginalized. Suddenly, stories of a movement to end football were brought to the public eye. Despite claims to the contrary, the decision to end football had been made before the 2014 season started, and while ignoring a season in which UAB football qualified for a bowl game, the team was, in fact, terminated in December of 2014.

Six months of media coverage and protests followed, ending with the Birmingham community coming together in an unprecedented way to force UAB to restore the terminated football, rifle, and bowling programs as well as allow UAB to raise money and improve facilities.

The two stories are very different when fleshed out, so let us return to the abstract. In the most abstract way, the UM student movement and the #FreeUAB movement had the same goal: to be heard and to have those concerns legitimately addressed. In the most abstract way, the mechanism was the same: protests and social media activism. In both cases, you had faculty involved, you had major money issues come into play, and you had the nation focused on what was happening.

But, even in the abstract, the differences must be noted. While both groups claim a “culture of mistreatment and oppression,” one is speaking to a microcosm of society as a whole, while the other is talking about a small group of landed gentry who treat a multi-billion dollar state institution as a toy. Solving the issues at UM is much more difficult than solving them at UAB.

In the abstract, the UM protesters are looking at a win of sorts, as the president did resign. UAB, on the other hand, did see the return of the terminated sports, but there have been no significant changes in governance at this time. UAB is, however, seeing some changes in the policies of the UA Board of Trustees in the areas of fundraising and facility construction that give hope to the UAB Family. So in the abstract, one movement won and the other is gaining ground.

Yet, even in the abstract, that is not fair to say. If the UM situation is really just indicative of something much larger in society, replacing every faculty member there will not solve the problems. If the UAB situation is really just about being treated fairly and gaining some measure of freedom, these small wins are actually huge in the grand scheme of things.

In the UM situation, the football team became the tipping point. In the UAB situation, the football team became the tipping point as well, but for different reasons. UM was faced with losing millions of dollars in penalties for not putting a team on the field. The UAB administration was willing to lose millions of dollars in both killing the program and in fighting against the #FreeUAB people.

In both cases, people rallied around the football team in ways that they would not have had it been any other program. While UM might have seemed unwilling to discuss the issues with the protesters, one adviser to UAB actually called the situation a state of “war” against the students and alumni.

The president of the school refused to meet with anyone, including the local government. The media involvement seems different as well. In the UM case, the media was limited in access to the movement overall, while at UAB, the media was a key part of it. The UM story moved faster, though, so it is hard to say what might have happened with time.

One of the largest differences that I can see, though, as an outsider to the UM movement and someone involved in the #FreeUAB movement is that one seemed to quickly lose sight of any clearly defined goals and border on a mob mentality, while the other maintained both focus and cohesion.

At no point in time did it seem like the #FreeUAB movement needed to ban press from meeting with members, call “muscle” to have press removed from areas, and so on. The UM movement seems, at least on the outside, to not have the clear goals needed to maintain an organized movement. And, with any movement, the second you drift into the area of the mob, you lose both control and the ability to control the message. And then, you lose the moral high ground.

Part of the UM story concerns a concept of “microaggressions.” Simply put, microaggressions are actions or situations that either overtly or subtextually reinforce racial or other stereotypes and constructs. A better way to think about it is that microaggressions are little things, or big ones, that keep people in their place. One part of the concept of microaggressions is the use of “trigger words.” Trigger words are coded language that seeks to evoke a response only from the target group while seeming harmless to the outside world.

Ironically, the same claim can be made about the UAB situation. At UAB, it goes like this: words such as “commuter school” are meant to imply that UAB students are not worthy of the University of Alabama, “urban campus” means “full of crime and minorities,” and “research institution” means “not one bit of fun to be had anywhere around there and only right for biomedical geeks.”

From an institutional culture standpoint, in the UA System, UAB was not allowed to issue bonds to expand the athletic facilities, raise money for the teams (especially football), invest in the Greek System, and had to fight tooth and nail to get silly things like dorms or parking decks built.

UAB was expected to exist in a world of “good enough for you” while UA existed in world of “nothing is out of reach.” No, I am not saying that the UAB situation is the same as a culture of sexism or racism, which is claimed by the UM protesters. I am saying, however, that the idea of a culture that seeks to work against the student body can exist, even in a successful university (or despite it).

The problem here is that sometimes, as Freud once said, a cigar is just a cigar. While UAB people may feel that something is an intentional slight, it might not be. The same might be true with the UM protesters. Another aspect is that sometimes, you just have to deal with it. Either there is nothing that can be done to change it (for example, one of the cases at UM involved someone driving by and yelling a racial slur) or the situation is more of a by-product of the larger state of things and cannot be changed so easily (for example, UAB will not have the same number of alumni due to being 1/3 as old as UA and having a smaller student population). Hostile environments do exist. Coded language does exist (for both good and bad; ad agencies use it all the time).

In the end, though, the two movements are similar in that college kids actually did something to effect change. Beyond that, though, the two movements are as different as they are similar, or more so.

Ralph Harbison is a business consultant and personal, business, and wellness coach based in Birmingham. Ralph is also a co-founder and chairman of Dragon PAC, a state political action committee dedicated to education transformation in Alabama. For more about Ralph, visit ralphharbison.com and to help Dragon PAC, visit dragonpac.org.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Understanding UAB Part 4: What UAB Is

By Ralph Harbison

Hopefully, you have started to understand the particulars of the UAB situation. We have a story to tell that runs against the common belief system and has no ties to it, other than location.

After the second and third parts, you should understand why the UAB Family has a hard time getting others, especially the highly indoctrinated Alabama fan, to understand the UAB Brand.

Basically, UAB is not the University of Alabama in any way, shape, or form and does not ever wish to be. It is in our differences that we find our greatest strength as an institution and a family.

Now, it is time to see exactly what UAB is, to read the brand as it is written by members of the UAB Family. While I am the one putting these thoughts on paper, please understand that I have not created them from whole cloth, as much as I would like to claim it. No, I have compiled this message from countless conversations with UAB students, alumni, faculty, staff, patients, and fans.

This is our story. This is our brand.

UAB is a place of learning, from the undergraduate part of the university, through the medical side of campus, in every sense of the word, UAB is about learning. We learn from each other, lessons about life, love, academics, and everything else. We learn from the finest faculty, trained in both the best university settings and in the real life experiences of the world.

UAB is a place of teaching, in every way. We educate each other, both inside and outside of the classroom. We are invested in each other, and we show that by helping others learn, from students looking for knowledge to patients looking for answers. And we teach life beyond the classroom.

UAB is a place of dreams, from the incoming freshman with ambitions, to the researcher seeking for the next promising drug, to the parents of a newborn thinking about tomorrow as the child sleeps in their arms, to the patient closing his or her eyes for the last night on earth, UAB is the place that ties them all together.

UAB is a place of reality, from the class work to the research and in the hospital, we stay grounded in our thoughts, focusing on the here and now and how we can do more.

UAB is a place of the future of the world, from students who will change the lives of others to the newborns in the hospital, UAB is working towards and focused on tomorrow.

UAB is a place of life in all of its phases, from the vibrant student to the physically ill, from those just starting life to those reaching its end, all aspects of life are present and part of the UAB experience.

UAB is more than a commuter school or medical center. UAB has student life for those who want to be involved. UAB has well respected faculty in all majors, from accounting to zoology. To ignore that is to deny reality.

UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences, often forgotten amid the medical end, is a confluence of 19 departments, 300 faculty and 40 different degree programs, including some of the best in journalism, English, history, art, music and many others. Our faculty and students are among the best anywhere. And have the accolades to prove it.

UAB is a place of inclusion, where people from all parts of the world, all aspects of life, find what they need, from education to healthcare. UAB sees no class, race, creed, or color, only humanity.

UAB is a part of Birmingham, from the slopes of Red Mountain where the campus sits to the suburbs where so many of the faculty and staff live, UAB is this metro area.

UAB is the engine of the state in economics as a major employer to education as one of the top 150 schools in the world, to healthcare, where it treats the state’s citizens to research where it makes the world better. UAB powers Alabama.

UAB is part of the world as it contributes educated citizens and life changing research. UAB is more than a local or regional school.

UAB is a place of magic for those who look. It is a place that can and should be all things to all people, and it is when we control its fate.

UAB is part of me, forever, and I cannot express that part only through words. Those who share that part understand. Those who do not share it, we only ask that we be left to have what is ours in peace.

Ralph Harbison is a business consultant and personal, business, and wellness coach based in Birmingham. Ralph is also a co-founder and chairman of Dragon PAC, a state political action committee dedicated to education transformation in Alabama. For more about Ralph, visit ralphharbison.com and to help Dragon PAC, visit dragonpac.org.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Understanding UAB Part Three: What the UAB Story is Not

By Ralph Harrison


Before we resume the series on “Understanding UAB,” I want to pause to congratulate Coach Bill Clark on his much deserved new contract. I also want to thank the UAB Administration for doing the right thing in this case and listening to the UAB Family. Also, a HUGE thank you to the undergraduate students who voted overwhelmingly to support the return of the programs and those who helped get out the vote!

Welcome to the third part of Understanding UAB. For a quick review of the first two parts, we start with an understanding of what branding is. Branding is telling your story so that others have a desire to be part of it. UAB has not been allowed to write her own story freely but has done as much as possible.

The UAB brand that the UAB Family promotes is different from the UAB brand that the UA System wishes to promote, and the Family’s brand has been a stronger, more influential story. That brand functions within a state where the indoctrination, what people are taught to believe about a subject, works against it, but it has relied on a powerful form of enculturation on campus to create new members of the UAB Family. UAB was created to serve a purpose, but it has, instead, created an alternative to the status quo. It is a small challenge, but it is a challenge none the less. Now, we will discuss what the UAB story is not.

Understanding what something is not can be more important than understanding what something is. The negative description (as in “what it is not” not “a description that includes bad points only”) often helps people grasp why something is different without a side-by-side comparison. While this understanding does not give the reasons that someone would love UAB, it does show why so many people in the state of Alabama have no real understanding of why the UAB Family does love UAB.

Throughout this list, you will see reasons that UAB stands out from the typical thought process of many Alabamians. This is not meant to imply that UAB is inherently better. The statements are only to show the differences.

First, UAB is not part of the antebellum, Civil War, Reconstruction Era, or Early 20th century history of Alabama. In this state, this is a major blow to its appeal. Alabamians love the good old days. UAB cannot participate in that at all. So, unlike the University of Alabama, which tells stories of its students going to fight for Robert E. Lee, or Auburn, which tells the story of the first War Eagle, a survivor of the Battle of the Wilderness, UAB doesn’t really start its own story until man walked on the moon.

Those of a nostalgic nature find UAB to be lacking. Part of the reason is that Birmingham as we know it did not exist until the 1880s, so even the city itself cannot harken back to the glorious ancient days.

Second, UAB has no real significant ties to the desegregation fight or the Civil Rights Movement, despite being located in Birmingham. This is actually an amazing fact, but it is one that has both positive and negative connotations. For those who seek a return to the “Good Old Days,” UAB holds no appeal. For those who want to escape the mention of them at all, UAB has that. BUT, because UAB is located in Birmingham, the Civil Rights Movement permeates everything to some degree, if for no other reason than how far UAB has come.

Third, UAB is not in a college town. It does not have a traditional campus. UAB students are not the typical college student, either. Although the typical student is closer to the traditional than ever before, it is not quite there. UAB students tend to be slightly older than the traditional. UAB students tend to work while in school. UAB students tend to gravitate toward the biomedical field and science.

Unlike Auburn, which is the town of Auburn, or the University of Alabama, which dominates Tuscaloosa, UAB does not control the majority of the city of Birmingham proper or the metro area. While the school and medical center is the dominant industry, it is not the only one. UAB is also in an urban area, in the center of the largest metro area in the state and one of the 50 largest in the country. It is not in a sleepy college town and does not have that appeal.

Finally, UAB is not dominated by the college experience. UAB is first and foremost a research medical center and major research university. While every other aspect of university life is present at UAB, those aspects are ancillary to the main functions of the university: education and research. That does not mean that you must be interested in research to attend UAB, or even interested in medicine.

On the contrary, UAB has amazing departments in engineering and business as well as the science departments. What it means that typical UAB students do not come to be Greek first, or because their dream is to watch a game from the student section, but because they value the educational opportunity that UAB affords.

So, if you want a school with a long history, strong ties to the old South, involvement in segregation, in a sleepy little town, and that places more emphasis on the college experience than the college education, UAB is not for you. That is not our story. That is not understanding UAB. And that is why UAB is not understood. Part of the indoctrination of the citizens of Alabama has been that a university includes those things, and if they do not exist, that school is diminished. Ironically, not a single one of those criteria has anything to do with why a university exists in the first place.

Next time, the final part of Understanding UAB: What UAB Is.

Ralph Harbison is a business consultant and personal, business, and wellness coach based in Birmingham. Ralph is also a co-founder and chairman of Dragon PAC, a state political action committee dedicated to education transformation in Alabama. For more about Ralph, visit ralphharbison.com and to help Dragon PAC, visit dragonpac.org.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Don't love the Tide or Tigers in Alabama? You must be a heretic.

Understanding UAB, Part 2: Heretics and Atheists

By Ralph Harbison

In the last edition of this article, I introduced you to the idea of branding as key part of a university’s growth and influence. Branding, to recap, is the story as told by those with an interest in the group, institution, or business, and when done well, that story invites others to add to it.

The problem with UAB and her branding is that those who love the school, those with a vested interest in her success, want to write a story separate from that of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. This creates a situation where those who want to see UAB grow will always be at odds with those who want to see UAB fail, and there will always be conflicting stories, conflicting branding, in the public eye. Now, we need to discuss two concepts that are part of branding, though the words that I am going to use are not typical to branding discussions.

The first concept is that of indoctrination. “Indoctrination,” per Wikipedia, is defined as “the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology (see doctrine). Indoctrination is a critical component in the transfer of cultures, customs, and traditions from one generation to the next. Some distinguish indoctrination from education, claiming that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned. As such the term may be used pejoratively or as a buzz word, often in the context of political opinions, theology, religious dogma or anti-religious convictions.

Everyone has been indoctrinated to some degree with regards to higher education. For example, is Harvard the best university in the country because there are a set of measurable criteria in which Harvard is superior or is Harvard the best because we have been told and taught that Harvard is the best? One key factor of this indoctrination is the belief that, with precious few exceptions, the schools with the higher profile athletic departments are better schools.

In the extreme case, such as in Alabama, it becomes dogmatic and at times, laughable. The University of Alabama is a better university than MIT because MIT “ain’t got no football team.”

While the majority of citizens of Alabama see that as asinine, the concept permeates our culture. At various times and in various parts of the state, there have been (and still are) those who believe that it is better to be an illiterate ’Bama (or Auburn) fan than it is to hold a degree from a lesser school. People cling to their preferred program, as a member of a tribe holds tight to his tribal identity, eschewing any and all attempts to convert.

This indoctrination is so pervasive that it is religious in nature. Children have closed prayers thanking God for football coaches. Polls have shown that the three most influential men to the people of Alabama were Bear Bryant, Jesus, and Robert E. Lee, in that order. When pressed why, one response was because “Lee lost and Jesus ain’t come back yet to cast the Yankees into hell.”

Auburn fans are as bad in some ways, as they also internalize their team’s perceived “stepchild” status. As a university, Auburn is different than Alabama, but it is not entirely fair to say that it is a worse school. Yet there is that perception that it is a “cow college” and is only there for the “rednecks” while Alabama is there for the “upper crust.”

As with any indoctrinated society, there are those who escape the hold of the indoctrination. They are the agnostics and atheists of the religious societies. In Alabama, there are those who do not put much stock in football or those who have never “pulled for the Tide or Tigers.”  If we think in religious terms, and for this state that is not far off, these agnostics and atheists are a threat to the status quo but a necessary evil.

While they tempt true believers to leave the faith, they also tend to work in areas that the rank and file faithful are not qualified to work. So, someone will forgive their doctor for being a Yankee Penn State grad or a cancer researcher for going to Duke and not caring about football enough. Another group within an indoctrinated society are those who were indoctrinated, some very highly, who lose that faith system. These are the heretics. Heretics leave the true faith for a false teaching.

In this state, they were Alabama or Auburn fans who now pull for some other team or school. The fear of being a heretic cause some to say “I am a Tide fan but I pull for Samford, too,” or “Yes, I am a UAB fan but I am also for Auburn,” as if adding the caveat grants them a pass from being cast out of the tribe (and it often does). Unlike the football atheists and agnostics, heretics are a major threat to the true faith and are not typically tolerated. Heretics represent an option to turn away from one sect and enter into another, taking money and power with them. Since the inherent nature of those who enjoy the status quo is to protect it, heretics must be eliminated and any and all heresies purged from the earth.

The second concept is enculturation. “Enculturation” is how well an individual assimilates within the group, adopting the beliefs, values, and traditions of that group. Simply put, does the outsider become part of the group AND does the indoctrinated person become more indoctrinated and deeper within the group.

If we look at Alabama and Auburn, we see that the enculturation process is designed to make indoctrination stronger. The entire society is focused on being a member of the fandom first and foremost. Again, there are the football atheists and agnostics, and even a heretic or two, but by and large, everyone is of the same faith. Those who enter the campus from a different faith are faced with enculturation or being somewhat of an outcast. While their ability to get the degree that they seek is not in question, their social world will be minimal. Good enculturation can improve indoctrination of the same faith and weaken indoctrination of a different one. In fact, the best enculturation will actually destroy indoctrination, creating a new heretic.

UAB has not been allowed to build the strongest tools of enculturation, such as a strong and visible Greek system and a vibrant athletic department, including a strong football team, yet UAB has still been able to acculturate students. One amazing factor in this enculturation is that it is 100 percent voluntary.

At UAB, becoming a UAB fan or member of the UAB Family (those who care about UAB without regard to fandom) is a choice that is made internally. There is not a strong enough Blazer Culture to force it upon anyone at risk of ostracism. Blazers become Blazers because they find the magic in the place and through personal exposure to other Blazers.

This is a different mechanism of enculturation, and a far superior one. Those who become part of the UAB Family will rather quickly drop the “but also” description. They become surprised when other people add it for them “Yes, but you also like _________.” “No, I am a UAB Blazer. That is more than enough.” Their belief in the UAB Family and UAB experience is insulting to the most highly indoctrinated, and it is a threat. The idea that you can grow to love something that is not “us” means that those who love the status quo lose power over you. They are no longer a tool or pawn in their game. And their love for their new heresy naturally attracts those who seek a new faith as well as those who do not share the indoctrination. More importantly, they can also help others to break the hold that their old indoctrination held over them.

UAB, therefore, can be seen as something created to hold the agnostics and atheists, as well as the indoctrinated who were unable to attend the University of Alabama or Auburn. The idea was to create a way these people could maintain their indoctrination while gaining a degree.

What was not foreseen, and could not have been because of the different nature of the UAB culture verses the cultures of the other schools, is the way the UAB Family would acculturate others and create a new faith system in Alabama, one based on the optimistic opportunity that UAB represents for the world.

The next edition of this series will focus on what the UAB story is not. That will bring Understanding UAB into clear focus.

Ralph Harbison is a business consultant and personal, business, and wellness coach based in Birmingham. Ralph is also a co-founder and Chairman of Dragon PAC, a state political action committee dedicated to education transformation in Alabama. For more about Ralph, visit ralphharbison.com and to help Dragon PAC, visit dragonpac.org.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Understanding UAB, Part One

By Ralph Harbison

Through all of the trials and tribulations faced by UAB, not just the recent ones but all of them from the founding of the school as an extension center, to the transition of the medical college from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, to the current situations faced under the Watts administration, there has been one constant: UAB have seldom been allowed to write her own story.

UAB is supposed to be an autonomous institution, charting her own course, under the oversight of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. What has been the case, however, is that UAB has been allowed to work under the ceiling created by the board that limits her growth and keeps her held to a standard that will not allow for the school to reach her fullest potential. One of the best tools used to limit UAB has been through branding.
In my professional life, branding is a key part of what I do. Not only do I use branding to promote my business, I also help other groups, companies, organizations, and people develop and use branding to reach their highest potential.

Branding, for those who are not in that part of the business world, developed over the 20th century, leading to the point where the “brand” was seen as more than the product or item itself but also the entire experience, including the company, the advertizing, the marketing, and the customers’ interactions with the product and the company. That gave rise to concepts such as brand value, brand management, and even the understanding that branding can apply to anything and everything in existence. We understand branding as more than the description of the product.

Branding is the story, written by the brand owner, that tells of the DNA of the product, and in doing so, it should invite others to join in that story, writing their own parts to it. Good branding does just that: it brings people in to participate in the product. Excellent branding causes those people to tell the story to others, inviting them to add their pages, too. Poor branding either does not invite others to invest in the brand OR it creates a situation where the customer experience is different than the image painted in a negative way, generally to an extent that the person regrets adding to the story and will discourage others from doing the same.

Branding includes marketing but is not marketing (telling the public of the product and inviting some action) and branding is not advertising but includes advertising (instructing the public to participate in an action related to the product, usually a purchase). Good branding is the living, expanding tome containing everything about the product and those who invested in it.
While they were not business men, and did not understand branding and brand management like we do today, the earliest visionaries at UAB were involved in amazing brand creation and management. Men like Roy Kracke, Joseph Volker, and S. Richardson Hill were doctors, men of science and vision, but they envisioned a story that could be written. A story of hope and progress, of enriching minds and saving lives that could become a beacon to the world of the brilliance of the people of Birmingham specifically and the Alabama population as a whole.

This story, the UAB BRAND, was completely unique in Alabama history. At no other point in time, save perhaps the people in Huntsville connected with UAH, has any group of people seen the need for Alabama to be more than a fiefdom for the wealthy and elite, both foreign (read “Yankee”) and domestic (read “rich, white pseudo-aristocracy”). And the brand that they created is exactly that. And it was beautiful branding. It invited others, such as Gene Bartow and Scottie McCallum, to add entire volumes. It invited others who added chapters, paragraphs, sentences, and at times, just a word or two, but the brand expanded.

At the same time, however, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees has tried to limit that brand’s growth. From the repeated use of the term “commuter college,” which holds connotations of a school designed for the unworthy and different, to the creation of a joke of a mission statement (which will be another post in this series about understanding UAB) to direct and indirect attacks on the institution itself, the Board has tried to act as a group of book-burning demagogues hell-bent on ridding the world of the story, the brand, the UAB organism, once and for all.

Yet the story is still being written, partially by those who fight for that beacon for the world to see, invoking the potential of Birmingham and Alabama, partially by those of us who have long since wrote our parts but are called back into service to the school that holds part of our hearts, and partially by those who have no other interest in the brand other than believing that UAB is needed in some way beyond the vision of those trapped in the past.

One of our challenges is that the telling of the story, the paid voice for the school, is a hand-picked University of Alabama alumnus and former basketball player who has no real desire in telling the true story, our story, our brand, to the world. That is not acceptable, but it is the situation that we now face. Any student of history, however, knows that there have always been those storytellers willing to tell the truth, brave bards, idealistic troubadours, old men and women with no other job but spinning tall tales and legends that always contain a measure of truth willing to continue to spread the story. And until the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and Mr. Bakken realize that this story, the UAB BRAND, is more important to the world to be purged from the earth, we shall invite, no, compel others to invest in the story and add their part.

Next time, we will talk about how these brands act in the formation of the students. Trust me, it is WAY more exciting than it sounds. Please share this with those who do not understand UAB and our struggles to form a #FreeUAB

Ralph Harbison is a business consultant and personal, business, and wellness coach based in Birmingham. Ralph is also a co-founder and Chairman of Dragon PAC, a state political action committee dedicated to education transformation in Alabama. For more about Ralph, visit ralphharbison.com and to help Dragon PAC, visit dragonpac.org.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Witt Model is unsustainable for the state's premier research institutions

By Ralph Harbison

Those of you who have kept up with the articles published on this site have been presented with unique insight into the current UAB situation. For example, this site laid out the Top 150 world ranking for UAB before the school ever acknowledged it.

Now, weeks later, the school has done just that, with press releases and the like. I would like to thank our resident University of Alabama Publicity Man, Jim Bakken, for finally walking with that information. I cannot say “running” since there are no commercials, no press tour, no fanfare. Now we need to turn our attention to the future.

The University of Alabama System is in a strange place. First, the Board of Trustees, over the last few years, have made multiple attempts to dismantle programs at two of the three schools, only to be greeted with amazing push-back.

From the attempted establishment of a research center in Huntsville to allow the University of Alabama the opportunity to undercut UAH’s federal research money, as well as the elimination of UAH hockey with no input or discussion with UAH representatives; to the attempted elimination of the UAB Honors Program, and the elimination of UAB football in defiance of a study done by the Board of Trustees itself stating that the program was fiscally viable and important to the school’s identity, the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Witt have tried to change the face of the system to the way it looked in 1964.

Add to those actions the unprecedented growth in the University of Alabama using a unique system that devalues faculty research, tenured faculty positions, and long-term undergraduate academic success for sheer volume of out of state students, a dominant football team, and unsustainable investment in members of its white Greek system (The Machine to those in the know), and you have what can only be described as the single most asinine long-term model for a university system in the history of the nation.

After all, why would you seek to limit the two Tier One Carnegie research institutions AND minimize what little research the third one does and call that a good plan? This is known within the state of Alabama as the Dr. Witt Model for University of Alabama System. To put it another way, Dr. Witt is being championed by the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System for ensuring that the member universities do not do what universities are expected to do (teach students and perform research that contributes to all of mankind). If you would like proof of the failure of the Dr. Witt Model, the same world ranking that had UAB ranked 146 had the University of Alabama ranked 406. The previous year saw UAB ranked 164 and the University of Alabama ranked 372. Under the Dr. Witt Model, the University of Alabama dropped 32 spots in one year!

Dr. Witt is retiring. He has endorsed his second in command, Executive Vice Chancellor Ray Hayes, as his successor. The Board of Trustees seems to be in agreement. This appointment is problematic for the entire state for several reasons, and it needs to be reconsidered.

First, continued adherence to the Dr. Witt Model is a recipe for the eventual collapse of the University of Alabama System. Growth for growth’s sake is inherently unsustainable in any area and education is no exception.

Further, removing one of the traditional activities of a university (research) and greatly impairing the second (the removal of tenured faculty impacts the quality of the education provided) can only lead to the collapse of the institution. No organization in the public or private sector can completely abandon its primary focus and expect to remain in business for long.

Dr. Witt, the Board of Trustees, and Mr. Hayes have all stated that the Dr. Witt Model is the future of the University of Alabama System. Second, Mr. Hayes has an excellent resume as a Vice President for Finance at a university, including stops at Mississippi State and Texas A&M Corpus Christi. That cannot be discounted and should be factored in.

However, neither of those schools are Tier One Carnegie Research Institutions, let alone part of a system with TWO Tier One Schools. There are serious concerns over his ability to lead a system that has major research institutions using a systemic model that seeks to minimize research.

While he should be more than capable of the financial aspects (he has been in charge of the system finances for some time), leadership and charting and guiding the course for the future is about more than finances, especially when research is a key factor in the school. Finally, Mr. Hayes represents another edition of the inbreeding that permeates the University of Alabama System. Instead of finding someone with experience on the outside who can bring in new ideas and excitement, the Board of Trustees is opting for more of the same.

Please note that none of my objections are based on the fact that Trustee Brooks stated publically that Mr. Hayes would help UAB raise money for athletics, and our research has shown that he has done absolutely nothing in that endeavor. I cannot say that Trustee Brooks was lying or that Mr. Hayes did not receive the memo. All that I can say is that he has done nothing.

Also, please make note that I did not base any of the objections on the fact that Mr. Hayes does not have a doctorate of any type. While the case can be made that only a researcher can truly understand how a research university works, I refuse to believe that a human is incapable of learning until that person shows an unwillingness to learn.

So I leave this to you, my readers, do we want more of the same, more attacks on member institutions, more drops in academic rankings, more growth for growth’s sake? Or, do we want true leadership, vision, and dominance in education from the state’s largest university system?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More Ray Watts Shenanigans

By Ralph Harbison

Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, UAB released a demand that the initial payment on pledges to restore UAB football, rifle, and bowling, shortsightedly killed by Dr. Watts, be made by Sept. 1, 2015, and the 2016 and 2017 payments be made as soon as possible.

Basically, UAB supporters were given a three week notice, at the time of the year when most households are paying for the “back to school” time, to put up the first payment and an additional nine months to pay the next two years. This was in opposition to the original promise deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. Before we get into this issue, let me say that needing an accurate accounting of the money before the start of the fiscal year is logical and required. I cannot fault that. I can however find many serious issues with this letter and, as always, the way UAB is handling this entire event.

First, while I have no issue granting the need to have the money for the budgeting, why was the announcement made when it was made? In the world of public relations (looking at you, Mr. Bakken) a press release like this is made on a Friday so that it will be lost and ignored. This was not done on a day when it could be discussed by the media. And why was it done three weeks before the deadline? Why was it not announced on June 2, when the announcement was made that the sports would be returned? This reeks of an attempt to design failure.

Second, what is the amount needed? How much has been raised? What are the goals? Where did the numbers come from? Are these critical questions ignored for a reason?

Third, and this one is longer term, why should we trust UAB under Ray Watts with the 2016 and 2017 money so far in advance? Will the money be set into a trust? Are we creating the UAB Athletic Department Endowment Fund? What if the department has a budget over-run or shortfall? Will the money for future seasons be raided to sustain the current years? If football winds up not being restored, will the donations be refunded?

Fourth, why are pledges not good enough to figure the budget? That is how the rest of the university and all of the universities in the world work. In fact, everything works by budgeting based on projected income, not on current holdings. Even your personal household budget assumes that you either keep your current job or maintain the current income level. That is why most families are three missed paychecks from bankruptcy. I understand that Dr. Watts has spoken with the authority of Paul Bryant Jr. himself that no more university money can be used, I do, but this change is counter to everything that exists in the world today, and particularly counter to how things work on every other public college campus.

All of that said, the attempt to hide the demands, the lack of a goal or current progress towards it, the fact we are still waiting on a contract for Coach Bill Clark that demonstrates the University is moving forward in good faith, the requirement that we trust the untrustworthy with money in advance, and the new love for cash in hand budgeting, we have no choice but to donate as much as we can now.  Send something now and send more later. This is a call for all of those who support UAB. We must play by the rules of those who seek to destroy us.

For now.