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)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ray Watts, revisited

By Ralph Harbison
UAB Class of '93

“O villain, villain, smiling, dammed villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain—“
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 106–108

I am not one to quote the Bard. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Shakespeare fan. I have seen many performances and own some of the movie versions of his plays, and like most everyone who attended U.S. schools, I own multiple editions of much of what he wrote. It is just that quoting him is not part of my typical speech or writing pattern.

But this quote, applied to this situation, is one that I cannot ignore.

When the news broke that Watts had killed UAB’s football, rifle, and bowling teams, I immediately thought that he did so under duress. I figured that he was under more pressure than he could handle and, as a man not made for that position is want to do, he gave in to it. Great trials make legends of great men and women, while leaving those without the resolve broken along the way. That is how history works. For example, in any great (or lesser) battle, any number of troops has the chance to perform some amazing act of gallantry, yet only a few do so. While all have courage, only a precious few have the inner strength to take the steps needed to rise above the din and become those fabled types. Besides, I knew the history of UAB all too well. I knew the stories, both public and private, of the many ways the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees has tried to inhibit the growth of UAB.

I can list them all here, but for brevity’s sake, I will not. Suffice it to say, the pressure on the administration has been amazing, and yet they resisted it. UAB has dorms, a Greek System, an athletic department, and many other programs that were opposed by the UABoT.  From there, I decided that he was a patsy, played as a fool by the Board of Trustees. He was sold a bill of goods about UAB and her need to be shed of the failure of football for the benefit of the campus as a whole.
And yet, my memory returns to a little over one year ago. In the late summer of 2013, the stories started to circulate about how the UAB Honors Program was under siege by Dr. Watts. According to the inside sources, there was a study being done that no one was privy to.

The same sources said that the Program, despite being award winning and a basis for study nationwide, not to mention amazingly successful, would be destroyed and replaced with a typical “within the student’s major” honor’ program. Well, those of us with connections to the program, from faculty to students and alumni, manned the battlements and put up the defense. And Watts backed down, but in the process he labeled Honors Program undergraduates “elitists.” Dr. Watts had sought no input from other stakeholders, he relied on a secret study that seemingly used no real world information, he consulted no faculty, and he ignored any information that countered his pre-conceived notion of what the outcome should be. Does this not match the athletic department fiasco nearly line for line? Except for the outcome, that is.

And then, I learned about the Respiratory Therapy Program. At one time, this was an associate’s program that was converted to a baccalaureate program. A few years ago, the word was given that it would be transitioned into a graduate degree program, much like physical therapy and occupational therapy had been. There is logic to that move. Suddenly, with no warning, the announcement came that the program was dead. Upon further research, we have learned that Dr. Watts did not inform the faculty or students, and that information sent to the Board of Trustees was intentionally misleading to make it appear that the final goal was still the transition, up to and until the program was announced as dead.

Why would a top level medical program not offer a program of this sort? The typical reason given is that there are other places where it can be taken. Please keep that answer in mind. If that is true, can the same not be said for every single major on the undergraduate side of campus?

So, I revisit the videos of Watts killing the football team. I see a cold, calculating, heartless man. I see Tristan Henderson, a veteran of the Iraq war and a “fully grown man” stand up to Watts, calling him out passionately about his “numbers,” and I see Watts not phased. I watch as Ty Long stands and mentions how he has NEVER ONCE seen this man at a game. And then, with the same condescension he directed at the Honors students, I hear him proclaim that he has 41 years as a Blazer (a number quickly proven to be false, simply by looking at his resume) and that we “do not know what we do not know.” And with further reflection, I have revisited my opinion of Watts, and I wish to share it with you.

Watts predates the athletic department at UAB. He is a product of the West Side of Birmingham, and for those who do not know the history of Birmingham, that is the factory town side. That side was also, historically, the most pro-Bama side of town, not that there was ever a pro-Auburn side of Birmingham.  More than likely, he never understood why UAB needed any of that foolishness when Alabama had Bear Bryant. Plus, he was not affiliated with UAB during the rise of the Bartow regime or the birth of the new vision for UAB. These events that are seminal for UAB fans are nothing to him, from the basketball success to the birth of football to the growth of the undergraduate side of campus.  Further, he seems to be driven by a “disorder” that I refer to as “just a” syndrome. For example, it was not enough for him to be just a pre-med student, he had to be an engineering student.

Then, it was not enough to be an engineering student, he had to be a materials engineering student. It wasn’t enough to go to medical school, he had to go to Harvard for his internship. It was not enough to be just a doctor, he had to be a neurologist. At that time, he realized that a neurologist does not carry the same prestige as being a neurosurgeon, so he cannot be just a neurologist, he has to be part of the faculty of a medical school, too. But that is not enough, so he has to be in the administration.

Here is the catch: to someone with this syndrome, everyone else is beneath him. No matter your station in life, your successes or accomplishments, or your impact on those around you, you are nothing compared to him. He does not want or need your input because you are just a {insert your term here}. This also fuels his desire to be accepted by those above him. He craves to be part of the Good Old Boy’s Network, to sip $100 bottles Scotch and smoke imported cigars in some country club. He wants to feel like he is one of the 0.000001% of the population, and not just a pawn.

Watts is a pawn none the less, but not the pawn I had earlier envisioned. At first, I thought he was innocent. Now, I am 100% certain that he is a willing co-consipiritor in all of this. I believe that Watts wants to return UAB to an extension center of the Tuscaloosa campus, removing all vestiges of independence from her. He is still a pawn in that those above him see him as an expendable tool that will be sacrificed to protect them, but he is not a victim.

As he walks the grounds of my beloved UAB, surrounded by armed security lest some of the great unwashed masses attempt to touch him, I see the spin machine try to portray him as a kind, loving man and a wonderful doctor who truly cares about UAB. That description flies in the face of a man who talks down to students, ignores faculty, calls major donors “liars” on national television, threatens and attempts to cajole those he considers beneath him not to vote “no confidence,” and killed the hopes and dreams of the athletes and coaches of two teams by email, much as one cancels an Amazon order. It leads me to conclude that any good attributes seen by his patients were faked by him, a mask put on to trick those beneath him.

The man who stood by, without any sign of emotion, and canceled those sports did not love UAB and did not care one iota about the students or staff. The man who refused to meet with Dr. Messina and discuss the situation does not see the faculty as critical parts and equals in matters of governance. This man is the Vichy France of school administration. This is the same man who, though he and his spin machine, will attack students, staff, faculty, donors, and alumni to preserve his ability to destroy UAB.

I return to Shakespeare, to a quote from Othello that fits many in the movement to free UAB from the Good Old Boy’s Network and create a better tomorrow.

“I hold my peace, sir? no;
No, I will speak as liberal as the north;
Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,
All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak.”

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