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High-Flying University Presidents Feed at the Public Trough

Message Roger Shuler

Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

We reported in April 2009 that officials at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) tried to fudge their numbers on a gender-related salary study, making it look like UAB was paying female faculty members better than it really was.
This has become just one entry in a growing list of problems on the Southside campus. But perhaps the public should not be surprised by the turmoil at Birmingham's largest employer. After all, UAB President Carol Garrison showed questionable ethics almost from the moment she took office. And there has been an alarming level of deceit at UAB under Garrison's leadership.
Garrison was named president of UAB on July 23, 2002, coming from the University of Louisville, where she had been provost since 1997.
On July 2, 2003, less than one year after she had been on the job in Birmingham, Garrison became entangled in a scandal surrounding University of Tennessee President John Shumaker (photo above). The two had worked together at Louisville, and Tennessee lawmakers began asking questions about Shumaker's use of the UT plane to make frequent trips to Birmingham.
Roughly a year earlier, before Shumaker's first official day of work at UT, Louisville officials had confirmed that he was in the process of getting a divorce from his wife, Lucy Shumaker. Throughout the job search, Lucy Shumaker had been at her husband's side, making it look like UT was getting an attractive, cohesive team. Reality turned out to be different from what the Shumakers projected.
One reason for that, apparently, was Carol Garrison.
The UT president at first claimed his trips to Birmingham were not to see Garrison, but his story soon changed. Here's how the Associated Press reported it in a story dated July 9, 2003:

Shumaker has been transported by the UT plane nine times to Birmingham, and he has been aboard it a dozen times as it took off from that city. On March 9, the plane picked up Shumaker and University of Alabama at Birmingham President Carol Garrison. It took them to Little Rock, Ark., for the Southeastern Conference championship women's basketball game, then returned them to Birmingham.

"The plane would have picked me up whether she was on or not," Shumaker said.

What was the nature of the Shumaker-Garrison relationship. The AP reported:

Shumaker described their relationship as "unassailable, perfectly proper and appropriate."

"Carol and I are very good personal friends," Shumaker said. "There is nothing to apologize for. We have never tried to conceal the fact that we were together on some occasions."

That explanation apparently didn't fly with officials in Tennessee. Two days later, in a story dated July 11, 2003, the Chattanooga Free-Press reported that Shumaker was being ordered to pay for personal flights:

The president of the University of Tennessee has been asked to reimburse the state for any personal flights aboard state aircraft. Gov. Phil Bredesen said Wednesday that UT President John W. Shumaker "needs to put to bed" questions raised about his use of state planes.

The governor asked Dr. Shumaker to examine his flights, and "if some are questionable, then you get paid a lot of money, write a check for it." The criteria to be used in making the evaluation is whether the trips were for state or university business, he said. UT officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Five days later, in a story dated July 16, 2003, Associated Press reported that Shumaker would pay back a substantial sum of money for his questionable air travel:

Facing questions about his use of the University of Tennessee plane and other resources, UT President John Shumaker said Wednesday he will reimburse the university $24,600 for 25 questionable flights, eliminate use of his corporate credit card and file more frequent expense reports.

Earlier this month, Shumaker asked the state comptroller to review use of UT's airplane because of state lawmaker concerns following an analysis of flight records during the last 22 months.

The most questionable flights were ones to Louisville, where Shumaker was the former president of the University of Louisville, and Birmingham, Ala., where former Louisville colleague Carol Garrison is president of the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

The day before this report hit the press, the vice chairman of the UT Board of Trustees ordered an audit of Shumaker's expenditures. And the governor made it clear, in a July 19, 2003, interview with the Chattanooga Free-Press, that he was not pleased with the UT president's cavalier use of state funds:

Gov. Phil Bredesen said on Friday that UT President John W. Shumaker's use of the university's airplane would not get a "Good Housekeeping seal of approval."

Gov. Bredesen said University of Tennessee officials should idle the plane and refocus on education priorities.

"I think it would probably be good for them to park that baby for a while and get the focus back on what they need to be doing," Gov. Bredesen said.

Shumaker might have parked "that baby" for a while. But his troubles were far from over. The University of Louisville, where Shumaker and Garrison had worked together, announced that it also was conducting an audit, focusing on Shumaker's spending while he was there.
Meanwhile, Shumaker resorted to telling a UT alumni group that he was the victim of tabloid journalism. He even tried to laugh off reports about his frequent trips to Birmingham to visit Garrison:

Shumaker joked Friday to alumni that "it was as though Birmingham was the center of sin in the Southeast." His former Louisville colleague Carol Garrison is president of the University of Alabama-Birmingham and accompanied him on the UT plane to an Arkansas basketball tournament.

Tennessee officials, however, must not have been in a joking mood because the heat under John Shumaker's chair was about to get even hotter. And Carol Garrison, again, would be right in the middle of it.

(To be continued)

Previously in the series:
Carol Garrison and John Shumaker, Part I
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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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