August 25, 1998
by Tom Brennan
Fresh from the shambles with the scent of Dr. Whiddon's blood still in their nostrils, some of skybox trustees (Ken Kvalheim, Herman Thomas, and Jack Brunson) immediately jumped on the football bandwagon given a sudden boost forward when Fob James, always playing the buffoon, threw the first pass for football at USA by asking Jan Greenwood, a partner with the headhunting firm, Heidrick and Struggles, "Doctor, do you have any experience in helping to pick head football coaches?"
Shades of what happened at Rutgers! When the Athletic Director at Rutgers University retired, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman "pointedly" told Rutgers President Francis L. Lawrence he should hire Robert Mulcahy for the job, a person with the right political and big-time sports connections. The first thing Mulcahy did was to request and get $3-million from the state legislature to renovate and expand the administrative offices at the Rutgers Athletics Center (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/14/98).
Several trustees and others were not behind-hand in picking up on James's cheer for football at USA. Jack Brunson, chairman pro tempore of the USA Board of Trustees, said James talked to him about adding football. "'The governor said to me, 'I think you need a football team down there.'" James added, "nothing works quite like football to get people interested in a the university." Trustee Ken Kvalheim and District Judge Herman Thomas said they supported the idea of football at USA. Kvalheim said, "I think it would be a very valuable addition that would do a lot to build school spirit on campus and give the community something to rally around in support of our university." Robert Bennett III, USA Alumni President, applauded the idea. He said, "The alumni have always wanted to get a football team" (Mobile Register, 7/30/98). The editorialists for the Mobile Register are constantly harping about waste in higher education in Alabama, arising from duplication of campuses and programs, but when it comes to football, no matter what the cost, Alabamians can never have enough of it.
But the real forecast of things to come is Ronni Clark's headline in the Mobile Register: "Moulton at USA Helm; Fob Backs Jag Football." (7/30/98) Whether football is uppermost on Moulton's agenda may be another story, but this headline which juxtaposes Moulton at the helm and Fob lobbing passes to open-armed trustees certainly suggests that it should be uppermost or that it better be if he wants the support of Mobile's daily and the support of those for whom the daily speaks. Moulton is quoted by Clark as saying that he intends "to do everything I can to put things back in a rational form" (7/30/98). Well, great, we hope he does, but what's he going to do about football? The trustees and others who want it are likely to be totally irrational about it, ignoring evidence about the cost, about its deleterious effects on academics, etc., and in the process ignoring the fact that there are more important things than football that the university needs to spend its limited resources on.
But maybe there's some hope that Mr. Moulton will not be a pigskin patsy carrying water for the Skybox trustees. John Cameron's story, "Poll: We Want Football at USA," gives some indication that Mr. Moulton may have ideas of his own; Cameron quotes Moulton saying, "We will have to determine if we can pay for it as there is not enough money in the institution to subsidize it. We would need to consider how it would serve the students, the alumni, and the community" (Mobile Register, 8/16/98). Of course, if Moulton does have ideas of his own that may run counter to the skybox faction, he will have to be very circumspect in broaching them. But where Moulton is cautious, Gottfried, the director of the Athletic program, is bullish: "'I do believe that football is the driving force for the future of intercollegiate athletics, both from a monetary standpoint as well as from a conference-affiliation standpoint,' Gottfried said" (8/16/98)
Incidentally, the University of South Alabama does not initiate these polls; the Mobile Register initiates them, deciding the content of the questions it wants to ask the public. Members of the university Political Science department merely make sure that scientific polling techniques are used. While the paper's storyline trumpets public support for football, that's not borne out by the stats. True, 75% favor football at USA, but only 30% would regularly go to the games, and only 16% said they are very likely to buy season tickets. 70% of those polled indicated varying degrees of indifference.
Now that Moulton has vowed "to get rid of the law firms and everyone else investigating [the athletic program at USA] as soon as possible" (7/30/98) Joe Gottfried, the Director of Athletics, may be feeling pretty chipper and may be enjoying his new perch among the cherry pickers; he has definitely stepped forward to beat the drum for football. According to Clark, Gottfried "told the Mobile Register that he is ready with a plan to introduce the sport as soon as he gets the nod from the president and the trustees." Clark quotes him: "I've always been in favor of football." "The way the NCAA is going today, financially everything favors football-playing institutions." Also "he said he has studied how other institutions have added football to their sports programs and is convinced there are ways to do it without using university money'" (7/30/98).
We shall see if Gottfried is over-awarding himself for cleverness or if his legerdemain can pull that free-lunch out of the hat. Is Gottfried ignorant of the fact that very few Division I teams make enough money to pay their own way or is he deliberately misrepresenting the situation when he says "everything favors football-playing institutions"? Just what does he mean by such an absurd statement? The record shows again and again that problems with athletic programs beget financial ones for the entire institution. For example, Rutgers University, a Division I school, has lost about $3-million in each of the last two years supporting athletic programs. And get this, the figures don't include salaries and other kinds of overhead, which at the average Division I institution cost an additional $3 million per year (Chronicle of Higher Education, 7/14/98). Moreover, the NCAA has done surveys showing that most college athletic programs are not money-makers. A study done in 1993 shows the majority of Division 1-A programs (Alabama and Auburn) lost money after financial support from the operating budgets of these colleges and universities was deducted. Typically the deficit is close to $2 million for these Division 1-A programs.
The same NCAA surveys show that Division 1-AA, Division II and Division III schools invariably lost money. Is it any wonder that faculty are, as Gordon Moulton averred, "suspicious" of football (Mobile Register, 8/5/98)? The $200,000 Dr. Whiddon paid King and Spalding to investigate Gottfried's office will soon seem like a drop in Mobile Bay if football comes to USA. Just how many football athletes are there to go around; it'll take big money to get them to come to USA when enticing deals are offered by Alabama and Auburn.
Will Gottfried, taking his cues from Mayer Mitchell, try to finance football by convincing the trustees to sell advertising space to the suits with deep-pockets? That is, sell them the right to have their corporate logos or family names on university buildings. In her article, "Latest Craze on Campus: Corporate Logos on Arenas," Michelle Rushlo, says that "Athletic departments now peddle the names of their arenas, locker rooms and soccer fields for the right price." Doug Tammaro, spokesperson for the athletic department at Arizona State said "the football locker room is available for $1-million. The gymnastics locker room goes for $100,000 and there's more"(Mobile Register, 8/5/98). Actually, Mayer Mitchell got his name on USA's new arena at a bargain-basement price. The Schottenstein family donated $12.5-million to get their name on the Ohio State basketball arena.
At any rate, Gottfried claims he has a blueprint to take football to Division 1-A in 5 years. It will be interesting to see what he attempts to build with that blueprint. He'd better check it out first.
Besides selling space for corporate logos, perhaps Gottfried has in mind raising student fees to pay for the trustees' athletic program. Often what happens is that college and universities turn to students to subsidize their athletic budgets through increases in student fees. Students are, in effect, a captive group exploited to keep athletic programs afloat. This taxation without representation at USA now amounts to $48.00 per semester, half going to the athletic department to subsidize the athletic program. With the advent of football, this fee will grow larger and more and more of it will shift to favor a rise in the athletic budget. In 1994, Athletics supplied the USA senate with Budget Status Analysis reports for the three preceding years. The most significant fact that emerges from studying them is what appears to be a million plus dollar loss for each year. More specifically, excluding monies reserved for athletic scholarships, Athletics' expenditures exceed revenues by over a million dollar each year of the three years for which the senate was given figures. Where did the money come from to make up the deficits? Where will it come from when football makes its debut?
The noise from the football bandwagon took most faculty by surprise. They thought the meeting in Montgomery on July 29 was solely for the purpose of announcing who would serve on the search committee and who would serve as interim president. What naive Ivy Tower dummies we are! Obviously the Skybox Faction saw it as their main opportunity to clear the trail of obstacles so the wheels of the football bandwagon can roll forward at breakneck speed. With Dr. Fred Whiddon's resignation, the mad rush to football has begun. But for years, Dr. Whiddon held his ground and not until the skybox faction had strained off and broadcast in Mobile's daily every smidge they could find against him did they succeed in forcing him to resign. But the smidges were only convenient pretexts. The real issue is that Dr. Whiddon had steadfastly resisted swallowing the camel of football. John Tyson, Sr. hit the nail squarely on the head at the July-17 Board meeting when he said to Fob James and the assembled audience: "Everybody knows what's happened Governor," and then accused Mayer Mitchell of hypocrisy.
Basically that hypocrisy, which belongs to several board members, has been a series of clever ploys casting these trustees in the role of the righteously indignant defending fiduciary responsibility against Dr. Whiddon's alleged dictatorial behavior. Ronni Clark in her story in Mobile Register, "Decision Day for USA," said that "Whiddon's decision last year not to recommend re-appointment of three trustee leaders [Mitchell, Nix, and Brunson], and his failure to keep trustees informed about the costs incurred building an on-campus arena led some of the university's 15 appointed trustees to push for Whiddon's retirement" (7/17/98).
Nonsense, over the years of his tenure as President, Dr. Whiddon was pressured relentlessly by trustees, alumni, students, and Mobile's daily to ape Auburn and Alabama, and keep the bubbas happy with big-time athletics and the favorite southern surrogate for warfare - powerhouse football. Typically indicative of this pressure is John Cameron's column in which he said, "Without question the administration at USA has disappointed Jag Alumni, students and fans many times over when it comes to commitment to athletics," meaning that Dr. Whiddon failed to produce a brand-name football program at USA (Mobile Register, 1/21/97).
In his July-30 column, "All Together, Now, 'Go, South, Go!' Cameron proclaimed dramatically that with Dr. Whiddon's resignation, "the veil of fear has been lifted from over USA campus and that includes the athletic department" (Mobile Register, 7/30/98). What balderdash! Dr. Whiddon never, to my knowledge, interfered with anyone's freedom of speech. I'm not surprised that administrators would keep their mouths shut about the matter of football, knowing the president was against it. So what's new?
When have administrators in any bureaucracy exhibited much courage? Most crats follow their leaders regardless of how many times they're ordered to do an Oliver-North. As for faculty, they are by nature self-protective. Most enter academia because it offers, they naively think, a safe haven from what's jokingly called "real world." The "veil of fear" is not going to disappear with the advent of a new administration or with the advent of football. If anything the veil will become more and more opaque.
To his great credit, Dr. Whiddon stood his ground against the "go South go" mentality, even though some members of the Board of Trustees have repeatedly pushed for the pigskin. James P. Nix, Mayor of Fairhope and a former chair of the Board, back in 1994 told a reporter for Mobile's daily that he felt "college football is something that would benefit USA as well as the community." And he was for it. He and fellow board member, Ken Kvalheim, were for it because, as Kvalheim put it, it would make a big difference in student spirit, and especially because, as Nix put it, "just think what five or six home football games would do for the economy here" (Mobile Register, 8/18/94). There you have it -- the great expectation that the pigskin will metamorphose into the goose that lays the golden eggs.
In 1996, when Dr. Whiddon revealed plans to upgrade the on-campus arena for basketball, enthusiasm from the booster trustees bordered on ecstasy. Trustee District Judge Herman Thomas initially voted against the arena when Dr. Whiddon presented it to the Board of Trustees as a barebones project, but changed his mind when later the project was reconceptualized; he said: "They were talking building the shell at that time. Now I think I'm more excited about it than anybody at the university including Fred Whiddon" (Mobile Register, 4/21/96)
But the most gung-ho of the rah-rah trustees was and is Mayer Mitchell. He's a great believer in the golden goose hypothesis. Mitchell, in reference to corporate donations for the basketball court floor and scoreboard, said, "I think we'll have them [the corporations] standing in line to bid on it" (4/21/96). Am I missing something? Are these altruistic corporations queuing up and digging into their deep pockets to write cheques for USA's Basketball arena? Mitchell also burbled enthusiastically to Ronni Clark, his Mobile-Register mouthpiece, about the money-making potential of plush seats and "sky boxes" in the priority sections of the arena. He said, according to Clark, "it will cost up to $1,000 a year extra for an upholstered 'priority' seat and the right to buy tickets to the games, and $10,000 a year to lease one of the facility's planned 16 to 23 sky boxes." Mitchell added, "Sky boxes and priority seating have become big business for the nation's top college athletic programs" (4/21/96).
Mitchell was also very loquacious about the benefits of corporate presence in these sky boxes; "I go to all the University of Alabama football games and sit in a box," Mitchell said. "And there's a lot more that goes on in these boxes that will benefit the University of Alabama than somebody just buying tickets to go to the game." (4/21/96). One gets the impression from these remarks that the arena and the sporting events are simple an excuse for corporate executives to gather in their private boxes ("hospitality suites," Bernard Justesen calls them) to make deals which will, apparently, spill over and spatter the University -- a kind of trickle down largesse from on high. We have serious doubts about the generosity of corporations in the Mobile area, many of whom have not made their sums-in-lieu payments to the public school system as they agreed to do when they cut deals to get tax breaks with the city and county industrial-development boards. In any event, the money-wise Mitchell said he thinks "this [the arena] is going to be a great vehicle to promote this university to corporate Mobile. We need to expose corporate Mobile to this university. I think the secret has been too well kept." (4/21/96)
Exactly what is the secret that corporate Mobile needs to be exposed to? The university is obviously alive and well and has been prospering steadily for 34 years. Has corporate Mobile overlooked this fact? Do they need football flash to get their attention? Maybe so, since the trend in business is to liven up business by wheeling and dealing at upscale topless bars. So why not have skyboxes that offer a side dish of football mayhem to stimulate jaded business palates. The flipside of this coin of idolatry that looks for manna from the corporate heaven is apparent in remarks made by Jack Brunson about how a university should be run like a business. As he took his seat as the new chair pro tempore of the USA Board of Trustees, Brunson said, "I look at it sorta like a business," "the student is the customer"; "we've gotta have enough customers." "The taxpayers want to see their money well spent" (Board Minutes, 7/2/98). Yeah right, give them football! Keep the dolts hooked on spectacle -- bread and circuses for the masses -- while the corporate biggies in their "hospitality boxes" scheme to fleece those very same masses with Camels, Marlboros, and Budweisers.
When Dr. Whiddon finally took the sports hook and set in motion the building of an arena that would satisfy the skybox faction, these same people got on his case about spending too much money, without they claimed, their obligatory consent as trustees of the University.
The irony is that frivolous frills for the corporate clientele pushed up the cost of the arena and then the skybox faction had the gall to blame those higher costs on Dr. Whiddon. In 1996, Dr. Whiddon told trustees and others that his estimated construction cost of $8.5 million did not include the cost of completing the 70,000 square feet of bonus space under the stands for classrooms and offices, and it did not allow for plush seats and sky boxes dearly desired by trustees Mitchell and Kvalheim.
The matter of the "sky boxes" was settled at a meeting of the USA Foundation on April 25, 1996, when Mitchell, along with other members of the Board, voted unanimously that a loan of $1.5 million would be granted to the University for the purpose of adding the "sky boxes" (Minutes). In a Mobile-Register article published on April 21, 1996 Ronni Clark states: "University of South Alabama officials don't really know how much the University Center will cost." Indeed, several trustees admit they knew it would take a good deal more money than Dr. Whiddon originally asked for. A specialist in arena construction had told them "most new arenas cost $100 per square foot, plus $1500 to $2000 per seat." Those figures would push the total cost to around $22 million, more than twice what Dr. Whiddon originally estimated (4/21/96). These trustees knew from the start the building would cost a good deal more than Dr. Whiddon had in mind because they had in mind quite a different conception for that facility.
In her 1996 article, Clark lists a plethora of costs not figured into the original estimate. But Dr. Whiddon, always looking for ways to save money, apparently authorized Bernie Justesen, Director of Construction, to find ways to cut costs, and one of his solutions was to buy second-hand plastic seats instead of the plush ones the Skybox Faction dearly wanted. At the Board of Trustees meeting on July 2, 1998 trustee Kvalheim took umbrage over these seats, complaining about tacky, second-hand plastic seats, which he obviously felt weren't good enough for the derrieres of the corporate clientele frequenting the Mitchell Family Arena. He wanted to know why the original plush seats weren't being bought and mentioned that Mitchell's donation of $1.1 million was made available for just such matters as comfortable seats.
Are we to conclude from these remarks that Mitchell didn't give the money to get his name on the building, he gave it to for plush seats for corporate derrieres to sit on? Be that as it may, Mitchell, beaming with pride of ownership, chimed in saying that he wanted the seats delivered and installed as soon as possible and that he expected the trustees to approve the "more comfortable, padded seats." Kvalheim also complained about inadequate leg-room for general seating, saying it was "major snafu" and a "major source of vexation to trustees." Kvalheim said that the padded seats "won't add that much more to the $15.5 million cost of the arena." (Mobile Register, 7/2/98) The Board of Trustees did decide to purchase new, padded seats. They will cost $111 each, totaling $300,000. Interestingly, interim President V. Gordon Moulton recently told Ronni Clark the final costs would probably reach 22 to 25 million dollars (Mobile Register, 8/5/98), which is what the arena-construction specialist said it would cost when asked in 1996.
Since trustees couldn't really make the over-spending charge for the arena stick, they looked elsewhere for things to nit-pick Dr. Whiddon with. They charged him with too much unauthorized spending to investigate poor victimized Joe Gottfried, and then, to really show how awful a person Dr. Whiddon is, they chastised him for purportedly refusing $50,000 donation from Lance Johnson for a state-of-the-art batting cage that he wanted named in his honor. Ronni Clark got a good deal of mileage out the Lance-Johnson affair; she makes Dr. Whiddon appear hypocritical because he objected to naming buildings and facilities after living people when his own name graces the administration building. The fact of the matter is that Dr. Whiddon has for years opposed naming building after people, including using his own name on the administration building. He finally acceded to the request of the Board of Trustees to have his name on the administration building because Mayer Mitchell and other trustees maneuvered the matter in such a way that Dr. Whiddon would appear to be an ingrate if he refused. Moreover, Mitchell knew if he was to be successful in getting his own name on the arena, he would have to have at least one building on campus named after Dr. Whiddon.
Those who want to know which way the winds of power are blowing USA's future need only listen carefully to the Ronni-Clark wind-talker. When she says that "finding a replacement for Fred Whiddon could take a year or longer" (7/19/98), you can bet she has told you what the Mobile Register and the skybox faction want you to think, namely that there's no hurry and that the university would do well to postpone as long as possible replacing Dr. Whiddon. The script of the skybox faction was made very apparent when the deans indicated their preference in signing a letter from Dr. Pat Covey, interim vice-president for academic affairs, agreeing that the Mr. Moulton should be interim president and that he should continue in that position for at least two years or more. Dr. Covey's letter was sent out sometime before the July-29 meeting with Fob James in Montgomery. Clark produced the script several more times, each time citing a skybox partisan, as she did when she has Jack Brunson saying he received "letters from several groups of university leaders, including a number of academic deans, supporting the appointment of Vice President for Services and Planning V. Gordon Moulton" (Mobile Register, 7/28/98). The script was reinforced one more time when, according to Clark, Brunson said "Moulton has tremendous support for the post from academic deans, administrators, and alumni" (Mobile Register, 7/29/98). The point we're making is that Mobile's daily chants over and over again the mantra of opinion it prefers to din into the heads of the public.
Clark's manipulation of public and university opinion is again evident when she cites comments purportedly made by Robert Bennett and Calvin Jones that "the faculty have full confidence in Moulton's ability to run the school" (Mobile Register, 8/9/98). How could anyone know that without doing a survey of faculty opinion? While the public has been polled about football at USA, Mobile's daily has yet to poll the faculty. Clark's earliest effort to spin faculty opinion occurred when she has "faculty leaders" saying "they are more interested in finding the right person to lead the university than they are in having it done as quickly as possible as James wants" (Mobile Register, 7/19/98). It matters not one whit that no "faculty leaders" said anything of the sort. Calvin Jones, the chair of the faculty senate, in his letter to Fob James, sent before the July-29 meeting in Montgomery, clearly spells out what the seven members of the executive committee of the senate would like to see done. I quote the relevant paragraph from that letter:
"We think that an international search should be started as soon as possible to find the best possible candidate with the academic qualifications and administrative experience necessary to lead this established and highly regarded institution into the next century. The search committee should include broad membership from the community and especially from the university faculty, with faculty representatives from the following areas: those who are active in teaching, those accomplished in research, and those who have extensive experience with the search process. The search should be conducted as expeditiously as possible but with appropriate thoroughness and due diligence, and the new president should take office no later than the beginning of the 1999 academic year."
Furthermore, Professor T.G. Jackson, chair of the Senior Faculty Caucus sent a letter to James before the July-29 meeting requesting senior-faculty representation on the search committee and stating what the senior faculty would like to see happen. I quote: "We believe the matter of preparing for and selecting the next president of USA, our chief academic officer, is of the utmost importance to the university and to the community at large. We also believe, the process of replacing President Whiddon should be national in scope and should be carried out as expeditiously as possible with the new president taking office no later than the beginning of the 1999 academic year."
Obviously not much attention was paid to either Jones's or Jackson's letter, since there is no senior faculty member on the committee and only one legitimate faculty member from the university as a whole, namely Jones himself. (We don't count Bennett or Rich as representing faculty because Bennett represents the Alumni Association and Rich is an administrator.)
Not much attention was paid to Dr. Covey's hope either; she said, according to Clark, "she hopes the governor realizes how important it is to have some of the university's top faculty represented on the committee he's forming to search for Whiddon's replacement" (Mob. Reg., 7/19/98). Well, Calvin Jones is the faculty lone-ranger while the board of trustees has 10 trustees on the committee, more than enough to scotch presidential candidates no matter how excellent their qualifications are. But none of this should surprise anyone who reads Mobile's daily. What Mobile Register Publisher and CEP Howard Bronson wants should be as plain as the nose on your face. And what Bronson wants is what Mayer Mitchell wants --football at any cost at USA.
But grooming Moulton for the presidency is just one part of the Mobile Register's strategy to bring on football. To canonize Moulton it must demonize Whiddon. In its July-22 editorial, "USA's Unique History Calls for a Unique Leader," the Mobile Register's editorialist first lets readers know who he/she thinks the unique leader will be, announcing that the interim president will "likely be Gordon Moulton, and then proceeds to bash Dr. Whiddon, saying the new president will have "to hold his or her own against the 34-year legacy of Dr. Whiddon," a dictator who controlled the university "with an iron fist." The new president's task "can be to loosen that vise-grip from around virtually every department and school and every faculty member." This "vise-grip" canard is more of the same balderdash
Cameron served up to the gullible public in an effort to create a contrast between the demon of darkness and a new prince of light. If there's any vise-grip on faculty and departments, it's the vise-grip exerted by the deans who seem to have had a free-ride for years and who seem to be more interested in lining their own pockets with their bloated salaries and consultant fees than they are in the maintaining high academic standards. In his exit speech from chairing the board of trustees, Mayer Mitchell, besides salving himself with a lot of sweet smelling ointment, did say one thing I agree with, namely that chairmen of the board should be rotated --"the reason you rotate, and we should rotate chairmen, is that nobody should be fixed in place. New ideas, new styles, new vision is [sic] important" (Minutes, 6/1/98). I'd like to see Gordon Moulton, whose forte is management, apply this idea to all deans and department chairs by conducting a rigorous evaluation of their performance. And I'm not talking about annual evaluations by the Faculty Senate which have no affect at all.
Faculty at USA have learned over the years that scholarship and good teaching alone won't do much toward gaining appreciable "merit" pay. Sycophancy too has got to be part of the mix in an institution that places so much power in the hands of deans and upper- echelon administrators who, if they do nothing really outrageous, can hold on to their position for the entire time of their employment. It's not likely that fear of those who run the show will dissipate with Moulton's arrival, not because he will do something to make matters worse, but because the dynamics of faculty-administrative interaction will grow worse as more and more adjuncts and non-tenured new faculty replace retiring tenured faculty. Football is not just a rathole to throw money down but also a convenient distraction from real academic issues that need addressing. Moulton will have to exhibit a great deal of courage if he really wants to get things in "rational form" at USA. But how likely is that given the pressure he will be under to stick to the football script?
Whereas our Mobile Register editorialist wants a "unique leader," trustee Larry Langford's sights are aimed a bit lower. He said, as quoted by Clark, "I don't want them looking for a god, I just want them to take their time and find someone who will recognize the diversity within the community and that the university is not an island, that it doesn't exist separate from the community it serves" (Mobile Register, 7/28/98).
Well and good Mr. Langford, but would you explain how serving up football will serve diversity and the community? If anything football dumbs down community values to the lowest common bubba denominator. Especially, football and basketball hold out expectations to the black community that all their sons and daughters need to do is get into athletics and all will be well with them for the rest of their days. But the experience of these young athletes more often than not turns out be something else. Once immersed in the commercialization and professionalization of college sports, they soon learn that there's not really much in it for them for the long term -- not even a legitimate education -- even though the colleges would have them believe the myth that they're really students.
With trustees hot for football and wanting to run the university like it's just another business, it will be difficult to attract an outstanding candidate for the presidency of USA when that person is very likely to see that he or she will be under the gun of rah-rah trustees who may very well want to use endowment money for building up the athletic program with the aim of making football the commercial centerpiece of the university. And in the meantime, it is likely to be difficult for V. Gordon Moulton to go against the macho grain of the skybox trustees and their mouthpiece, Mobile's daily, and exhibit the courage to look out for the academic priorities of the institution. The primary functions of the university -- teaching, research, and service -- were and still are being performed by an underpaid, understaffed, poorly equipped faculty. Faculty have been promised library expansion for close to twenty years. Will the people supporting football also support library expansion? Our enrollment has grown to more than 12,000 students, but the size of the tenurable faculty has not grown proportionately. Adjunct positions are proliferating. Will the people supporting football support increasing tenurable faculty? As Scott Carter, former chair of the Faculty Senate pointed out in an editorial in a letter to the Mobile Register in 1994, "those who want an intercollegiate football program at the University of South Alabama should first support the programs that relate directly to our primary mission: teaching, research, and service. When these programs are on a sound footing, then we can begin to discuss football" (8/28/94).
My old football coach, Joe Rosati, used to exhort his motley charges to practice the fundamentals. Constant practice of the fundamentals is essential to any organization, but it appears to us that some trustees and administrators of USA don't really know what the fundamentals of a university are. V. Gordon Moulton said "he hopes people won't be pushed into competing camps of being for or against football" (Mobile Register, 8/16/98). But if he really wants to do something more than hope, he would do well to begin showing that he understands what the fundamentals of a university are, otherwise a conflictive polarization of faculty and administration over football is almost inevitable. Doing staged photo-ops for the daily newspaper won't get the job done. The trustees currently running the show appear to measure all success in the marketplace. Can V. Gordon Moulton show them that the standards of the academy are not just the equal of the marketplace but that the marketplace makes no sense without the standards of the academy?
However, we acknowledge that the job that Mr. Moulton appears to want to take on is an especially difficult one because first what we have in Mobile is still largely the old style tooth-and-claw business ethos which permeates even the university. Our corporate monkeys (the ones Mayer Mitchell wants to lure into skyboxes) are still swinging by their tails and the rest of the community can be capriciously damned. These monkeys use their power to create Industrial Development Boards that hog all the bananas and help bankrupt the public school system, and then they pick up their marbles and leave any time they feel like it, as Scott Paper and International Paper did. And second, the job is especially difficult because the administrators at USA, for the most part, have bought into this tooth-and-claw ethos. Where collegiality ought to be the norm, a rigid and relatively permanent hierarchy is the norm. This deeply entrenched structure enables upper echelon administrators, including most deans and some chairs, to reward themselves in princely fashion with large salaries and to dole out meager merit increases to a large portion of the faculty.
Given this ethos is it any wonder that Dr. Whiddon, a businessman himself thoroughly knowledgeable about business practices in Mobile, sought to make USA's foundation money as secure as he possibly could to protect it from predatory raids by reckless members of the Board of Trustees? Actually the loan of $1.5 million from the USA Foundation to furnish skyboxes for the arena would probably not have been a loan but very likely a grant if Dr. Whiddon hadn't wisely set up the Foundation as an independent entity. The Skybox Faction wants to change all that. At a recent meeting of the USA Board of Trustees, Mitchell, in questioning the USA Foundation's use of its funds, called for 5% of the interest on endowment money be allocated to the general operations budget of USA, thus making it available for whatever purposes the new administration deems appropriate. That would amount to an influx of $17 million every year, a tidy sum for the use of the interim and/or permanent president should the USA Foundation be forced to give it up. But that might not be so easy. According to Clark, Dr. Whiddon said that "'if the trustees don't like how the foundation handles the money, [they] can go to court'" (Mobile Register, 7/3/98)
There is, however, one ray of light that may stave off the competing-camps scenario worrying Moulton, and that's Fob James's praiseworthy appointment of Larry Striplin to the Board of Trustees at USA and his appointment as chair of the presidential search committee. His leadership may conceivably change the picture in favor of a search that is not a charade. Even members of the skybox faction think highly of Striplin. Jack Brunson said, as quoted by Clark, "'he is an astute businessman and an objective person who will be a real asset to the board.'" "'He and Dr. Whiddon are good friends, but he is not a puppet for anybody. He is an innovative person who will help develop new directions'" (Mobile Register, 7/31/98). Ah yes, this is type of leader USA needs -- one who will not be "a puppet for anybody."