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, 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 and to help Dragon PAC, visit

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 and to help Dragon PAC, visit

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?