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)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

UAB needs a president that stands up for UAB, not fights against it

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about the events at UAB. I hope that my small contribution will shine a slightly different light upon the particular reasons that this situation is so dire, and why this is not about football, although football is the catalyst that started this current uproar. The light that I hope to share is focused through the lens of student life and how that relates to the growth of the university.

To properly tell my portion of the story, I feel that it is important to understand my connection to UAB. In 1991, when I graduated from high school, I was one of the most highly sought after academic students. I was accepted by almost every major university in the nation, most of which had never been sent an application. I chose UAB for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was my early acceptance to the medical school and my admission to the UAB Honors Program. While at UAB, I was extremely involved in student life.

My involvement included two terms as a UAB Ambassador, serving as a student recruiter, a member of the Blazer Crew, secretary of the USGA, a member of the UAB Basketball Pep Band, a member of the UAB Jazz Ensemble, marching in the first Marching Band, and more. I was awarded the title of Mr. UAB in 1993, which made me the last Basketball Mr. UAB. I was highly involved in student life, and I am proof that there always was a place for a student who strove to “be involved” on campus. Because of my involvement, I was aware of the particular battles that UAB faces on a regular basis. These battles are being waged even now, and in a more serious form than ever before.

Prior to my first day at UAB, the Blazer family had already fought and won many battles. The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees had opposed expansion of undergraduate programs, including dedicated schools of business and engineering, the construction of dorms, and athletic programs of any sort. Most of these battles were eventually won by UAB, through the hard work and vision of great men and women who saw that UAB needed to be more than a commuter school for those who were unworthy to attend in Tuscaloosa. Slowly, the university that saved Birmingham, and through that the entire state, had started the long journey into being seen within the state as it was seen outside of it: a major institution of higher learning. That said, one of the major battles was in a very heated stage. UAB, under the direction of Athletics Director Gene Bartow, was establishing a football team.

Please understand that this was opposed by most, if not all, of the Board of Trustees. In fact, I was involved in a very heated argument with one of the Trustees on the third floor of the old Hill University Center. After being told that any UAB student who wants football and the various activities that accompany it needs to transfer to the “REAL University of Alabama,” I was enraged. The discussion was not always cordial on either side, and it ended in a most inelegant way, but I was not to be insulted. And yet, the program was started. Please note that I am not going to cover the ill-will and bad blood between the system schools. That is for another story teller. Just keep in mind that vengeance is a major driving force in all of this.

As mentioned earlier, I worked as a student recruiter and was a tireless promoter of UAB. Sadly, in my visits to schools around the state, I was exposed to several very real truths. First, a sizable portion of this state considers any university without football to be the rough equivalent of a community college. Some, in fact, take it to the extreme and consider schools with less football acumen to be sub-standard, including Harvard and any other Ivy League school. The administration recognized that. So did the Board of Trustees. Second, the absence of a football team meant no marching band. No marching band meant kids who loved that part of their life would not choose UAB. Those students tend to be exceptionally loyal to their alma mater, and they tend to be above average students. The administration recognized that. And so did the Board. Third, UAB had a reputation of being “not white enough” for a great deal of the more rural areas. More than once, I was told that UAB stood for the “University of Asians and Blacks.” As racist and insulting as this was, it was also exceptionally difficult to overcome that objection. UAB needed a way to showcase itself as both a modern university for all students as well as a traditional school that had “everything” those other schools had, with world class research. Football allowed for that.

As time went on, the “vision” of the Board was made more clear. Anything that created a strong alumni base was to be verboten. Somehow, a strong Greek system was perfect for Tuscaloosa but evil for UAB.  Dorms were treated with kid gloves, even though the demand was high at all times. A cafeteria and true student union building were off-limits. Football was part of that list. Recently, the UAB Honors Program was added to it as well. The Honors Program is a leader in academia in its approach. Instead of being in one subject, it covers the core curriculum. Instead of it accepting only the 4.0 GPA with a 36 ACT score, it accepts a range of student from the traditional to the atypical. And these students are loyal to each other and the program. And because of those reasons, they, too, are a threat to the powers that be.

Recently, the Honors Program was under attack by Dr. Watts. Many reasons were given, such as it being too exclusive, the students being too elitist, or it not fitting into the current vision. There was strong push back, but it isn’t safe yet. Imagine a university that has a program that is unique, is studied by other programs around the world, and has a strong following, and the president of that school wants the program gone. Illogical? Yes. And that is part of the problem here. Why, exactly, would a great selling point for UAB be under attack? Why would a president of a university want to destroy a program that is considered among the best in the nation?

The destruction of football means several things. It means that each year, 85 or so young men will not be able to attend UAB on scholarship. It means that every student in the Marching Band is now out of work, possibly out of school. It means that another aspect of student life is gone forever, and UAB will be marketed as football-less in a state that treats football as a religion. But it is deeper than that. UAB added several women’s sports to remain balanced in Title IX. Those sports are no longer needed. Those young women will lose opportunities as well. Again, the appeal of UAB is diminished. Without football, much of the athletic department is gone.

Most of my career has been spent in some form of sales and marketing. As such, I have learned to accept two very real points. In order to sell an item, you must be able to show how it fits the needs of the person buying it and how it is different and better than any similar product on the market. Having football and a strong student life allows for the former and programs like the Honors Program allow for the later. Removing those two programs cripples UAB’s ability to recruit new students. It begs the question as to why that is a good long-term plan.

A president with vision, such as Joseph Volker, S. Richardson Hill, and Ann Reynolds, would EXPAND these programs. Much has been said about a potential “academic and research triangle” between major schools in this state. A president with vision would hold that the only triangle that is needed for that starts at Vulcan and runs to the Red Mountain Expressway for one corner, along Third Avenue South to I-65 for the base, and back to Vulcan for the point. The president would push the issue into the court of public opinion. UAB literally funds the entire University of Alabama System. It is time that power is exerted within the System. UAB deserves to have a president and a Board of Trustees that understand this.

This isn’t about football. This is about an attempt to create a less appealing UAB, to force UAB to regress into a commuter school.

Ralph Harbison, Mr. UAB 1993

Ray Watts: UAB's Nero

While UAB fans, employees, students, and especially student-athletes, read story after story that the athletic director has been fired and that football will be eliminated within days, if not hours, the man who has supposedly orchestrated this catastrophe, UAB President Ray Watts, has reportedly been partying it up in New York City, refuses to return emails or calls, or speak to the parties affected, and has yet to speak publicly on the matter beyond a prepared statement released to the media two weeks ago.

If this isn't proof this man is unfit to lead a major research university, I don't know what is.

Just a sampling of today's news:

Steven Chappell
B.A., 1991, M.P.A 1997

Saturday, November 29, 2014

UAB women's team coaches united for UAB football

I could write volumes about this open letter from the UAB women's team coaches to the UAB administration, but their letter speaks for itself.

To the leadership of our university and our city:
We have joined together today to write to you about the future of UAB athletics because we feel our voice is not being heard. We are seeking you out in hopes that you will listen to those inside the UAB athletic department as we offer our support for UAB football and Coach Bill Clark.
Many of us worked for or with Coach Gene Bartow. We shared his vision, and we worked with pride to realize his dreams. Those of us who came to UAB after Coach Bartow left us still feel his impact on a daily basis. His legacy is one of the main reasons we refuse to be silent as the future of this program is discussed.
As a part of our strategic planning process, we were all asked to adopt a 'championship culture' based on a foundation of competitiveness, hard work, accountability, morale, pride, integrity, ownership, support for one another, and no tolerance for excuses. Our coaches and student-athletes are held to these standards every day.
It seems apparent that very large decisions are being made by a very small group of people. This group is not communicating with us about the future of our teams, our student-athletes, and our coaching staffs, but these looming decisions are being discussed amongst ourselves. Our student-athletes ask us about the future of the teams to which they have committed their college years. Our coaches ask about their future with the teams to which they have committed their livelihoods. And we have been given nothing believable to tell them.
Coaches, athletes and staff know the questions are not just about football. Those of us who have given our careers to college athletics understand that a decision like this impacts the entire athletic department, because to be at our best, we need a strong football program.
It's black and white. For UAB basketball to be its best, we need a commitment to football. The same is true for Blazer soccer, volleyball, softball, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, rifle, and track - we are ALL at our best with a strong football program that positively impacts everything: our conference affiliation, our university's reputation, our city's national profile, and community pride in UAB. This isn't a matter of opinion. It is a matter of common sense.
Celebrating history is in the very DNA of sports, and at UAB we proudly look back on our accomplishments, records and championships. But our university was built on looking forward. On vision and discovery. On dreaming then doing. And just like our great city, we have overcome so many challenges to stand on the cusp of something bigger. As our city and our downtown undergo a renaissance, every day there are new signs of growth and progress. Why then, would UAB - the institution of dreamers and doers and Birmingham's shining example for progress - be the one to strip away something almost unanimously viewed as good for our city?
Our university is in the midst of a billion dollar capital campaign whose message is "Give Something, Change Everything." Our student-athletes and coaches continue to give UAB their everything, every day.
What we ask of you now is to have the vision to give them something. A chance.
We have been asked to be quiet. We have been told there is nothing to say. We have challenged our administration to stand up for our athletic department. We have not been asked for our opinion, or given us a voice to offer one. But now you have it: We, the coaches of the women's sports programs at UAB, speak for our assistant coaches, our student-athletes and the fans of our programs, and we stand together to give our unwavering support to UAB football and Coach Bill Clark.
Bailey Coleman | UAB Sand Volleyball
Michelle Crews | UAB Bowling
Kerry Messersmith | UAB Volleyball 
Randy Norton | UAB Women's Basketball
Kurt Thomas | UAB Women's Track
Mark Tija | UAB Women's Tennis
Marla Townsend | UAB Softball
Harold Warren | Women's Soccer 
Kim Wilcox | UAB Women's Golf
Steven Chappell
B.A., 1991; M.P.A., 1997

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ray Watts: Stand up for UAB, or step down

By John Knox

I’m a 1988 graduate of UAB, with a B.S. degree in mathematics. I was the first student ever recruited for the UAB University Honors Program (UHP), the first honors program on the UAB campus. I was also UAB’s first Rhodes Scholar finalist, with a nomination letter from Gene Bartow. During and after my time at UAB, I met with each UAB president from Joe Volker through Ann Reynolds one-on-one in his or her offices. My wife and I have contributed substantially to UAB, in particular to the UHP and the Department of English.

In that context: unless something changes radically for the better at UAB during the next few weeks, I support the departure of UAB President Ray Watts. And, unless radical positive change occurs, we will not contribute financially to UAB until he departs.

My grandfather was a small-college football coach and a football referee in the Southern Conference, a predecessor to the SEC. But sports are not my particular concern here. I attended a UAB that did not field a football team. Today, as a professor at an SEC institution, I can recite both the good and the bad of big-time college athletics.

My concern is how UAB’s administration has lost the energy, vision and autonomy that typified its presidents from Volker through Reynolds—and, most critically, the application of this energy, vision and autonomy to the undergraduate component of UAB. A graduate of Huffman High School in Birmingham, I chose to attend UAB over Rhodes College in Memphis because of the vitality of the professors at UAB.  

I soon learned these professors were backed to the hilt by visionary administrators such as Thomas Hearn, who later distinguished himself as the long-time president of Wake Forest University.

At the very top of UAB were renowned medical doctors who, paradoxically, were passionately interested in seeing the undergraduate side of UAB flower. They cultivated and encouraged brilliance.  Ann Reynolds, who did not rise up through the ranks of UAB, nevertheless embodied these attributes as well. She did not simply take orders from above and abandon the best interests of UAB. In my opinion, that is one of the reasons she was forced out in 2001, despite leading a vigorous and fabulously successful capital campaign (which is the measure of modern college CEOs).

We are in a different situation at UAB today. I have observed Ray Watts talk down to honors students face-to-face and brand them as “elitists” because, like me, they came to UAB for a first-class honors education that now appears to be endangered via bureaucratic reorganizations.

All of us have witnessed the shameful spectacle of UAB’s football program, once burdened with a miserable “legacy admit” of a coach hired because of his connections to another campus, rejuvenating at the very moment that its own president sticks a knife in its future recruiting with ominous talk of a strategic review.

And, as with the honors students he insulted, Watts has placed the blame on others for his actions and inactions, decrying “rumor and innuendo” that he could have quashed himself in a few sentences.  

While many may see this website and my statement here solely through the prism of football, I believe that the battle is larger than any one sport, and bigger even than sports itself (a shocking claim in Alabama!). I fear that the vitality, if not the existence, of UAB’s undergraduate component is at stake, here and now and in the future.

I hope that I am wrong, that my sources are wrong, and that President Watts will rise to the level of the presidents whose shoes he is trying to fill. He has a very difficult job, balancing the partisan natures and desires of those above him with the needs and desires of the institution he leads. But his job cannot be any harder than it was for Joe Volker in the 1970s, or for Ann Reynolds in the late 1990s, or for the other presidents in-between.

They stood up for UAB; they did not hide behind the cant of business-speak and the “can’t” of lowered expectations; they did the right thing, and all of Birmingham and Alabama, and the nation and world, have benefited from their leadership.

It is time for Ray Watts to stand up for UAB.

--John Knox is an associate professor of geography at the University of Georgia.  Last week he was honored in Washington, D.C., as the state of Georgia Professor of the Year by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  

The time for change has come

My alma mater is under attack, from within. Its president, Ray Watts, who took office in February of 2013, has done nothing in his short tenure as president to instill confidence in the students, faculty, staff and alumni of UAB. However, his malfeasance has reached a head with his handling of the controversy surrounding the future of UAB football. A malfeasance and gross incompetence that may put the entire future of the University at stake.

You see, at present, Watts is supposedly leading the Campaign for UAB, an ambitious $1 billion fundraiser for the University and all of its constituents. However, rumors have swirled, which Watts refuses to put to rest, that none of the money raised by the campaign will be used for football. Then, in recent weeks, it was revealed that UAB's new head football coach, Bill Clark, still has no signed contract, nor does the football team have any games scheduled beyond 2016 (when Clark's unsigned contract is set to expire). When asked about the future of UAB football by several alumni and former football players, Watts silence spoke volumes. 

However, it's not just football that has many concerned. When Watts took over as president, he immediately began an assessment of the UAB Honors Program, one of the most respected University honors programs in the country, with the apparent intent of dismantling it in favor of far less impressive, and less rigorous, university-wide honors. That led a virtual angry mob of Honors Program alumni, as well as current honors students, leading a campaign to save the Honors Program. 
So far, the program appears safe, but concerns remain, mainly because Watts has yet to give his support for the interdisciplinary program that has done nothing but produce continued academic accolades for UAB since its founding in 1983. 

This site welcome any and all contributions to support the ouster of Ray Watts as president of UAB. It's not because we have a vendetta against the man. It's because we love our alma mater and want to see it succeed, thrive and grow without the continued meddling of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, led by Paul Bryant Jr., who has had a public hatred of UAB that dates back years. And the problem with the BOT pulling Watts strings is that, according to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a board's meddling in the internal affairs of the University and its chief operating officers handling of those affairs, is illegal and a primary reason for a loss of accreditation (see the pinned note above). Yet, that doesn't seem to stop the BOT from micromanaging every dime UAB spends, while it spends willy-nilly at the only campus is cares about, the golden child in Tuscaloosa. 

Watts has done nothing, near as anyone can tell, while at UAB worthy of making him president. Under his tenure as dean of the School of Medicine, the school's national rankings and federal grants dropped every year while top researchers fled his employment. Yet, he was rewarded for that failure with the office of president following an essentially secret search that many insiders believe was completely orchestrated by the BOT. It's time for UAB to have a president who is independent of the BOT's actions. It's time for another president in the mold of Joseph Volker, S. Richardson Hill or Charles "Scotty" McCallum, leaders who didn't suck at the teat of Bryant Jr. and his BOT cronies but truly acted in the best interests of UAB and the city of Birmingham. It's time to fire Ray Watts. It's time for real leadership to return to UAB.

Steven E. Chappell
B.A., 1991; M.P.A., 1997