By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday Senator Dick Brewbaker (R), Representative Jay Love (R), and Senator Trip Pittman (R) sent the interim President of Alabama State University (ASU), Dr. William Harris, a letter notifying him that the trio of legislators have filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all “contracts, subcontracts, and expenditures” between ASU and public officials and their relatives.
Senator Brewbaker wrote in his letter to Pres. Harris: “As the Chairs of House and Senate Committees responsible for education policy and budgeting, we believe it is our duty to reassure the public of contractual transparency of expenditures at state educational institutions.”
In September Dr. Joseph Silver assumed his duties as President of Alabama State University. Within just 90 days the new University President was suspended by the ASU Board of Trustees (BOT) because he alleges that the University had longstanding improper financial dealings involving certain public officials.
At the center of that controversy is ASU Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Knight (D) who is also an Alabama House of Representatives member representing Montgomery.
In a dramatic BOT meeting on November 26, the BOT voted to place Silver on paid administrative leave. At the same meeting, an angry President Silver fired Rep. Knight (D) by email using his i-phone. President Silver also sent a termination email to Danielle Kennedy, the vice president of university relations. An ASU attorney has since stated that the firings of Kennedy and Knight were a violation of University procedures and ASU has overruled those personnel actions by President Silver.
The day after suspending Silver, the Vice President for Business and Finance, Edward Patrick and Joyce Outler, the Senior Assistant to the President, were both suspended. Three days later they were both fired. University Vice President Danielle Kennedy said the two no longer work for Alabama State because the board of trustees did not approve their hiring. Patrick and Outler had previously worked at Clark Atlanta University with President Silver.
The BOT initially made Rep. Knight the acting President of ASU, but because of Silver’s allegations against Rep. Knight the BOT (this time with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in attendance) made former ASU President Dr. William Harris the interim President of the historically black college. President Silver remains on paid administrative leave pending a BOT decision regarding his fate. There is speculation by many that the BOT intends to fire President Silver. Silver meanwhile defends his conduct and says that the reason he has been punished is because he exposed “old bones” by questioning ASU’s contracts.
At the November 30 meeting, the BOT accepted Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) recommendation that the BOT postpone any decision about embattled University President Joseph Silver’s future for 5 to 10 days and conduct an independent audit of ASU’s finances.
Gov. Bentley said in a written statement, “The issue before all of us now is to do what is best for Alabama State University. Toward that end, Chairman Dean has agreed with me that an independent and comprehensive financial audit of this university will be conducted immediately. That is a positive step in the right direction.”
Gov. Bentley said, “This University is vitally important to this community, to our state and to our nation. And we don’t ever need to lose sight that our students are our first priority. And we don’t need to forget that in any way. That is very important. Their education and their future are the reasons that we must stay focused on delivering a quality learning experience.”
Gov. Bentley said, “I was very proud and privileged to be here last week at the dedication of Alabama State’s beautiful new stadium. You only have to look around this campus to see the tremendous progress that Alabama State has made and continues to make every day.”
Gov. Bentley said, “I know this board is faced with some very difficult challenges. That’s why I have met with Chairman Dean and other members of the board. I have also met with the president of the Faculty Senate, the president of the Student Government Association and the head of the ASU National Alumni Association. In addition, I have met with and spoken with Dr. Silver to gain his perspective.” “The students, faculty, staff and alumni of Alabama State University, and all the people of this state, deserve transparency in everything that we do. And I am going to make sure that happens. “
Complicating the unpleasant situation was President Silver’s mother’s recent death. “Given the news, our board will not consider the primary item of our agenda today related to Dr. Silver. In my opinion, it would not be appropriate, and even more, it would not be respectful. Those discussions can wait until a later date,” Chairman Elton Dean said.
The audit of all University contracts will be conducted by Warren Averett Wilson & Price in Montgomery. Some political insiders are questioning the independence of Warren Averett Wilson & Price because they have done financial review work for ASU before. Some political insiders speculate that Brewbaker, Love, and Pittman’s request for all documents could possibly be the beginning of an investigation by the state legislature.
Prior to coming to ASU, Dr. Joseph Silver had been provost at Clark University in Atlanta, GA.
ASU students have vocally supported President Silver, are demanding that he be restored to his position with the University and have embraced his call for a thorough and independent investigation of the embattled University’s finances.