Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
The biggest story in Birmingham last week involved the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and its refusal to address plans for an on-campus football stadium at UAB--even though the chairman of the board's athletics committee had enthusiastically endorsed the plan in September.
Many UAB supporters are baffled and outraged, understandably so. After a presentation on the stadium proposal less than two months ago, Athletics Committee Chairman John McMahon said he thought the project would "get done and get done quickly." At last Thursday's board meeting in Tuscaloosa the project was pronounced dead.
What happened between September and November? UAB supporters tend to point angry fingers at Paul W. Bryant Jr., president pro tempore of the Board of Trustees and son of UA's late, Hall of Fame football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Blazer fans are correct to be suspicious of Bryant Jr.'s motives; he long has been seen as an impediment to UAB's aspirations in the sports arena. But UAB President Carol Garrison (photo above) should not escape scrutiny. Her weakness as a leader helped set the stadium fiasco in motion.
To be sure, Bryant Jr. is a shady character, and public documents show that Bryant is a businessman with deeply skewed ethics, as we pointed out in a post with a not-so-subtle headline:
Court documents from Pennsylvania show that one of Bryant's companies, Alabama Reassurance, engaged in a "wire fraud scheme" to deceive insurance regulators and "inflate financial statements." A Philadelphia lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart received a 15-year prison sentence in the case, but an investigation of Alabama Re was called off by U.S. Justice Department officials in Alabama.
According to Alabama Department of Insurance records, Bryant was one of five people on the Alabama Re board, and the company had two full-time employees. In such a closely held organization, it's hard to imagine that Bryant was unaware of a $15-million fraud scheme.
Bryant is not the only slippery character in the UAB stadium story. Carol Garrison has her own set of shaky ethics, and UAB is not likely to move forward until both Bryant and Garrison are out of power.
Like Bryant, Garrison has a disturbing history of being tied to financial shenanigans. In fact, she probably should have been fired for misuse of public funds during her first year on the job at UAB. But the Board of Trustees, already facing a likely lawsuit from UAB's previous president (W. Ann Reynolds), decided to keep Garrison on--ensuring that she would be their toady for the foreseeable future.
How weak is Garrison as a university president? Consider her almost comical response to the Board of Trustees' announcement that the stadium plan was going down. First, here is a portion of the board's statement:
A majority of the Board believes that an on-campus football stadium is not in the best interest of UAB, the University System or the State. It is the Board's duty to be responsible stewards of the limited resources available for higher education. In these difficult economic times of rising tuition and decreasing state funds, we cannot justify the expenditure of $75 million in borrowed money for an athletic stadium which would only be used a few days each year. The UAB football program has not generated sufficient student, fan or financial support to assure the viability of this project.
Here is Garrison's response: