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)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

#FreeUAB reminds me of previous history...

By Ralph Harbison
Mr. UAB 1994

One day, the king died and his son took over. As time went by, the son lost more and more contact with the outside world. Gradually, the son was so insulated and isolated that the only people who he spoke to were his advisors and puppets.

He was out of touch and tone-deaf to the world around him. Some distance away, farther in mentality than miles, the colony started by the kingdom was in a state. Over time, the colony had pushed its limits and tried to force more and more freedom from the old country.

As the upstart colonialists pressed for more, the king, unable to understand why they wanted to be different and afraid to lose the money the colony generated, struck back. With force, the king imposed his will upon the colonials, never once facing them himself or answering directly for why.

Finally, the colonials were DONE. A small group of them decided it was time for a change, and they started the process of gaining freedom from the unjust kingdom.

Care to guess where and when this story happened?

1776. American Colonies of England.

But, I cannot help if it sounds much like the #FreeUAB story. In fact, it is a little too much like the #FreeUAB story.

So, please, this Independence Day, as you reflect upon that group in 1776 who made the decision that it was better to die taking a stand than it was it live on your knees, ask yourself what you are willing to sacrifice to end oppression in your own world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

If we won why does it now feel like a loss?

By Ralph Harbison
Mr. UAB 1994

So, somehow, against all odds, the UAB administration has flipped positions and is now supposedly working to restore the previously terminated football, rifle, and bowling teams. This is due to several factors, the largest of which being the Birmingham Area Business community getting involved.

Yes, the “vocal minority” that raised all sorts of Green and Gold hell helped, but, truth be told, we just kept the story in the news to the point that reinforcements could arrive. We were, to be frank, much like the 101st Airborne holding the Bastogne, answering the call to surrender with “Nuts,” and holding the line for Patton to come in and rescue us. And, much like Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s bunch, we did just that.

And yet, we do not feel quite like those brave men back in that cold December battle. Or, I should say, those of us who understand the fight in which we are engaged do not feel the same.

While we have broken the siege in a way and forced a change, the underlying issues remain. Ray Watts is still president. The administration is still obfuscating and refusing to be clear about the needs and current position of the fundraising. The University of Alabama Board of Trustees has yet to discuss or even acknowledge the litany of no confidence votes. There is still an overall feeling that, to be blunt, all of this was done for show and nothing is going to change in the end.

The corrupt and ineffective administration is still in place at UAB. For example, exposed Kahn of no fewer than five years of fraudulent ethics forms being submitted and she is still in charge of the Vichy National Alumni Society and fundraising. The National Alumni Society changed rules to minimize the reach and influence of the alumni, refusing to teleconference and changing the election rules DURING THE ELECTION. We have more information now about the dangerous financial situation facing our sister campus in Tuscaloosa, thanks to Dr. John Knox (a man that could teach Watts no small amount about leadership in academia). And we know what we did not know, although not all of it has been made public at this time.

How do we go from a win in game one to a series sweep? This is where the answer will upset many, if not most, of the UAB Family.

We don’t.

We cannot.

We will not.

There is no way for us to sweep the series. We will not restore the programs fully, rid ourselves of Watts and the other anti-UAB people in office, and gain freedom from the University of Alabama Board of Trustees without a long, hard struggle. That does not mean that we cannot WIN, in fact, we have no choice but to fight until we do. It just means that it will not be a four game sweep. This series will go seven games to say the least.

So what are the next steps? From what I can tell, we actually are still in game one. We just hold a decent lead in the game. We cannot drop into a prevent defense pattern, nor can we run the ball control offence.

What we need to do is to finish this game out by continuing the attack for more openness from the Administration. We need to demand updates on the process. We need to demand a joint presser from Ingram and Clark so that BOTH men are there when certain questions are asked. We need to demand updates on the financial situation as pledges are acknowledged by the university.

In the age of computers, there is no reason that a “running total” cannot be created and presented to us. That way, we can see a DAILY update to the size of Watts’ mythical doughnut hole.
Anyway, we need to press for information, which has been the one thing that Watts has hated to release. This administration is as averse to shared governance and transparency as a vampire is to sunlight, and for the exact same reason.

What about cleaning house in UAB? What about a truly Free UAB? Those take more time. Major steps have been taken and are being taken to accomplish those goals. We cannot discuss all of that at this time for several reasons. Just know that the time will come when the next step is taken.
Until then, we keep the pressure on for information. We must demand openness and clarity from Watts and UAB.  That is our new focus.

Yes, we had a huge win. It feels like a loss because the game isn’t over and we realize that the one huge play is not going to be enough to win it all. We cannot give up hope now. We cannot give up the fight now. We must continue to press. We must continue to attack on all fronts. We cannot score again if we are trying to run out the clock and hope the other team has given up.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What The New York Times Wouldn't Publish About UAB

Power to the Publics:
The Struggle For Autonomy in Birmingham

By John A. Knox

I am a 1988 graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), UAB’s first Rhodes Scholar finalist, and I am now a professor at the University of Georgia.

The termination and reinstatement of football, bowling and rifle at my alma mater during the past six months have been misunderstood by many commentators outside of the state of Alabama. Painted as yet another tug-of-war between athletics and academics, this interpretation is shorn of context and misses the deeper point. This pitched battle is instead the latest chapter in a long saga of colonialism and absentee-landlord politics that has dominated the history of my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

UAB was founded in 1945 as the medical school of the University of Alabama, 60 miles from the main campus in Tuscaloosa. Its first dean, Roy Kracke, was a nationally known hematologist who turned down the dean of pathology position at what is now Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City in order to create something from nothing in Birmingham. Kracke’s dream from day one was a comprehensive public university in Birmingham, the largest city in the state. Against the odds UAB flowered, funded by billions in research grants rather than by sufficient state appropriations. UAB became an autonomous comprehensive research university in 1970; today UAB is one of the top 50 research universities in America (, one of the top 25 U.S. institutions in National Institutes of Health funding (, and one of the top 10 public universities producing Rhodes Scholars during the 2000s (data compiled from

Autonomy is an elusive thing in Alabama, however. Despite the miracle story of UAB and its 45 years as a fully fledged university, it is still referred to condescendingly as a “satellite campus” of the Tuscaloosa flagship campus (although UAB has eight times more research funding than the flagship campus does; The Board of Trustees that oversees the Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville campuses is composed of 80% Tuscaloosa alumni—including the son of Paul W. “Bear” Bryant, the famed football coach of the Crimson Tide from 1958 to 1983 (

As numerous stories in the Alabama media over the past several years have revealed, basic decisions about UAB are made among a small group of board members huddled around Paul W. Bryant Jr. These decisions extend far beyond athletics, and have led to the ouster of previous UAB presidents (including former CUNY chancellor W. Ann Reynolds) who would not bend to the Board’s desire to hold UAB back. The decisions of the current board-compliant UAB president have led to four no-confidence votes against him, most prominently by the UAB Faculty Senate on January 15.

According to a former member of this Board of Trustees, successive leaders of the Board have had a hidden agenda to shut down the entire undergraduate academic component of UAB ( In other words, the termination of football at UAB was just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of the end for UAB as a comprehensive university after decades of lower-grade obstruction by the board.

In the three weeks since this revelation regarding the planned shutdown of UAB’s undergraduate side was made public, the Board of Trustees has had no rebuttal to this claim, and no response explaining what the motives might be for planning to shutter UAB’s 11,679-student undergraduate program. UAB is financially healthy with a $2.4 billion in operating revenues annually; furthermore, UAB carries zero athletic facilities debt. Therefore, financial concerns at the Birmingham campus cannot be the explanation. The spiraling billion-dollar debt at the Tuscaloosa campus may be a contributing factor, however ( The board is silent on the reasons why.

Faced with an existential threat to UAB as we know it, supporters across the nation mobilized into the grassroots #FreeUAB movement. #FreeUAB is dedicated not only to reinstating sports wrongly terminated in a process that circumvented NCAA and accreditation procedures, but also is in strong support of reforming the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. We believe that no major research university in America should be run by the partisan supporters of another rival institution.

Birmingham has a long frustrating history as a city where the shots have been called by outsiders: by U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh, by hostile politicians in Montgomery, and by skybox residents of Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The #FreeUAB movement is for Birmingham as well as for UAB, and is committed to a vision of self-determination for both UAB and Birmingham.

This is why the UAB story is about much more than football, and how this saga meshes with the larger sweep of current events in American higher education. Whether you are in Madison, Wisconsin, where tenure guarantees are at risk and budgets are being slashed in the University of Wisconsin System; or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where financial exigency may be declared at LSU and other public universities; or Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where political interests are seeking to move faculty out of research at the state’s top research universities, you are aware that your school’s decisions are being made by others, decisions that endanger its excellence and/or existence. The same is true at UAB. Instead of being an athletics vs. academics squabble at UAB, the power play of the Board of Trustees against UAB closely resembles these other ongoing assaults on American public higher education. 

The grassroots revolt for self-determination in Birmingham can also be instructive to those who are battling for their universities’ souls and survival. For example, UW-Madison and UNC-Chapel Hill have enjoyed academic autonomy for generations; at UAB, the struggle for autonomy has been a daily fight since 1945, ever since Roy Kracke arrived in the “Magic City” and worked his own magic to create UAB.  #FreeUAB is a quest for autonomy long deferred; around the nation, the fight is for autonomy regained. There is synergy in numbers. Understanding and uniting with the #FreeUAB movement is power to the publics. 

John Knox is an associate professor of geography at the University of Georgia, a 1988 alumnus of UAB and the 2014 CASE/Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Professor of the Year for the state of Georgia. He earned a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and held a post-doctoral fellowship at Columbia University in the City of New York.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Football may be back, but Ray Watts still needs to go

Reports are pouring in that UAB football, bowling and rifle will be back at UAB in some form. However, the fact remains that the monumental moron who made the decision to disband the program after its second-most successful season in school history -- and who justified that decision with lies, deception and outright disdain for those it impacted -- still must go. That moron is UAB President Ray Watts.

If reports are to be believed, UAB football (and, we presume the rifle and bowling teams), which were eliminated with an unbelievably callous announcement to the football team (and via email to the bowling and rifle teams, really, Ray?), will be back in 2016. Watts is reversing course after unprecedented support from the city of Birmingham, surrounding municipalities, votes of no-confidence from practically every University constituency, a state representative who has gone full-boar into supporting the cause, and millions of dollars in pledges for the program if it's reinstated. However, the damage by Watts remains.

Dozens of employees who had JUST BEEN HIRED for their jobs were displaced. More than 100 student-athletetes were left looking for new colleges if they wanted to continue playing the sports they loved. The University was left holding the bag for millions of dollars in buy-out clauses for games on the books. It also bought-off the athletic director, presumably to keep him silent about the shenanigans that led to this catastrophe in the first place.

Bringing back UAB football is the right thing to do. But the fact it came to this is based on a string of bad, incompetent decisions that can never be fully rectified. For those reasons, until Ray Watts is fired or has a second brief moment of common sense and resigns, this web site will continue its mantra:

Fire Ray Watts. Today.

The Bible Brush-Up Bill

By John A. Knox

Alabama House Bill 339 emerged from committee last month.  This bill would mandate ethics training for members of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees (UABOT). But this news was overshadowed in Birmingham by shenanigans at UAB—events that were, not coincidentally, triggered in the first place by ethically questionable actions by that same board.

One TV news account stated that this bill was “stalled.” It isn’t, and it shouldn’t be resisted. Not that it was in the Alabama House, where it passed 96-to-some guy in Finis St. John’s back pocket. Now on to the Senate, where the real aginners reside.

Ethics training is mandatory for many of those associated with higher education already. And in the very buckle of the Bible Belt, in a nation that is said to be Christian, what’s so hard about ethics anyway? Around here, ethics derive from principles that any Board of Trustees member should have learned in Sunday School: the Ten Commandments, and so forth.

For this reason, I refer to HB 339 as the “Bible Brush-Up Bill.” Why is it needed? Because here in Alabama we don’t want the UABOT to take ethics for granite.

Ethics are as simple as Exodus 20 (or Deuteronomy 5, if you’re one of those second-law radicals):

  • “Honour thy father and thy mother,” but don’t put someone on the Board just because of his daddy;
  • “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor”ing institution’s research funding, nor its medical center, nor its honors program, nor its undergraduate population, nor anything else created by that institution;
  • “Thou shalt not steal” resources from the state by permitting an institution to act as a fifth-of-a-billion-dollar piggy bank for Greek activities of a dubious moral nature, unless they are held at the church in Corinth;
  • “Thou shalt not kill” football based on grudges, other institutions’ financial needs, or cooked-books financial analyses; and
  • “Thou shalt have no other gods” running the Board, including The University of Alabama and Bryant Bank.  (As in the Bible, you can tell when gods are being named by the overuse of capital letters.)

Any “Veggie Tales” veteran could guess the right answers to ethics questions based on these concepts.

Another part of HB 339 requires the UABOT to familiarize itself with the enumerated accreditation principles of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges for both the Board and the institutions it oversees.  These, too, are no-brainers for anyone who grew up on Bible studies and church pot-lucks.  There’s lots of overlap with the Commandments.  For example:

  • 1.1: The institution operates with integrity in all matters.  This means that presidents don’t lie, senior vice presidents don’t fib on their ethics forms for five straight years, faculty athletics representatives aren’t cut out of the loop on athletics decisions, and faculty, staff, students, and alumni are not called names and mocked publicly.  
  • 2.2: …The board is not controlled by a minority of board members or by organizations or interests separate from it.  This would preclude a situation in which, for example, more members of the UABOT are related to a bank than to two of the three universities being overseen.
  • 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.  This would mean, non-hypothetically, that a university president would not meet with a small cabal of UABOT leaders to decide the fate of three sports prior to speaking with the university’s vice presidents.  Nor would a Board perform “coachus interruptus” on the tarmac during the endgame of a search process for a new football coach.
  • 3.11.2: The institution takes reasonable steps to provide a healthy, safe, and secure environment for all members of the campus community. And so the Board would not permit a situation in which a football team practiced on a field full of holes, without hot water, and in a crumbling stadium. Furthermore, in accordance with SACS principle 3.2.11 the Board would not resist efforts to upgrade these facilities. 
  • 3.12.1: The institution notifies the Commission of changes in accordance with the Commission’s substantive change policy and, when required, seeks approval prior to the initiation of changes.  Clearly, the Board could not countenance a situation in which the undergraduate component of a university is slated for termination without prior notice and approval.

Only a vocal few would dare oppose training in such common-sense, duh-hey standards.

(HB 339 also requires disclosure of economic interests as well as business relationships and transactions with other board members.  However, most of the Board members were in the same fraternity at Alabama and their code of omerta apparently doesn’t permit such disclosures, so expect the offering up of an amendment that the Legislature can’t refuse.)

By now, I hope that the reader realizes that HB 339 is sorely needed.  Why?  Because each and every one of the thou-shalt-nots I’ve cited above has actually transpired in the recent past.

The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees needs to be “born again,” and ethics reform is just the first step toward its salvation.

John Knox is a native of Birmingham, the son of a Presbyterian minister, a Presbyterian elder, and the former chair of the board of directors of the Presbyterian Student Center campus ministry in Athens, Georgia.