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?