By Senator Tom Whatley
Imagine with me for a second that 65 percent of the starters on Auburn University’s football team were set to graduate and we didn’t have any idea who would come behind them to fill the gap.
I think we’d be a little nervous, to say the least, about the next season until the new starting lineup was confirmed.
Now, transfer that analogy over to Auburn University’s Board of Trustees, the school’s governing body.
Last year nine of the 14 positions on the board – roughly 65 percent – were up for reappointment at the same time. This is potentially problematic because the University’s SACS accreditation could be jeopardized if there are too few trustees serving at a given time. Frankly, this puts too much risk in the hands of the Legislature to ensure that all of the trustees are confirmed in what can become an overly political process.
That’s why I began working last year to draft legislation that would stagger the terms of trustees so that no fewer than two trustee positions would become vacant at one time.
The bill also updates the districts from which trustees serve from Congressional District lines drawn more than 50 years ago to groupings of counties based on the 2010 Congressional District lines. Because the number of Congressional Districts has decreased from nine in 1960 to seven in 2010, we were able to create two additional at-large seats. This would allow trustees to serve regardless of where they lived in the state of Alabama or beyond.
With input from countless members of the Auburn Family, we were able to come up with a reasonable solution to modifying the board’s structure while protecting the University’s best interest for the long term.
Yet some have unfortunately undermined the true intent of the bill by bringing personalities and unfounded accusations into the mix. They’ve said the bill shows favoritism because trustee terms had to be extended in order to be staggered moving forward.
Under the proposed bill, all trustee terms – both newly appointed and current members – were to be extended, so any claims of personal favoritism are simply not true. Critics of the bill have been targeting certain trustees by intentionally misrepresenting portions of the bill that apply to the whole board – using the same strong-armed tactics that have plagued the board in years past.
While we simply ran out of time to pass this bill in 2012 legislative session, it passed the Senate without opposition and had overwhelming support in the House of Representatives. That’s because the bill represents a reasonable solution to protect the University’s best interest for years to come – without bringing petty, short-term personal disputes into the mix.
As your Senator, and as an alumnus, the most important thing to me is doing the right thing for Auburn University. I also realize that there will always be critics and skeptics when it comes to change, and that’s why it is important that we all continue to have honest dialogue to ensure that we chose the best direction for Auburn. If we do not, it could be Auburn’s accreditation – and future – that is jeopardized by our own unwillingness to change.