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The Education of Dr. Joseph Silver: Kicking the Hornet’s Nest, Part One

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Much has been made of the recent turmoil surrounding the short tenure of Dr. Joseph Silver at Alabama State University.

For weeks, the events leading to Silver’s resignation played out like a Nixonian drama in print, around the blogosphere and on the airwaves.

Rumors abounded as speculation of improper contracts, double-dealings and a family feud was whispered throughout the Capitol City.

While down the road a ways, the President of the University of Alabama resigned without a hint of controversy, yet certainly question could have been raised. The two events are greatly different in the way the media probed them and the way the rumor mill dispatched them. Is this once again the specter of quiet racism that speaks softly but says so much about our present society?

The Governor has called for an forensic audit of ASU, so, it is not known if there is any merit to the accusations of fiduciary improprieties, that will be a matter for another time.

What is worth probing is the history of Dr. Silver and his legacy at other institutions of high learning. If past is prologue, then perhaps Dr. Silver should have never been offered the presidency at ASU in the first place?

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From the Turkey Day Parade fiasco to the abrupt firings of Dr. John Knight and Danielle Kennedy much has been reported, but what details were left out of the reports, what shades were used to color the story and what really led to the $685,000 thousand dollar payout to Dr. Silver?

The Turkey Day Confrontation

The Turkey Day Classic, dating back to 1924, is considered the first black college football classic. This year the epic showdown between the Alabama State University Hornets and the Tuskegee University Golden Tigers took place on Thursday, November 22, in the New Hornet Stadium.

According to a report in the “Montgomery Advertiser,” “Silver said when he arrived at the start of the Turkey Day Classic parade, he discovered there was no car for him and his wife, but that all other ASU administrators, including [Dr. John] Knight and former president William Harris (who is now serving as ASU’s interim president), had been provided parade cars by Capitol Hyundai.”

This report leaves out several details of the events and distorts others.

Capitol Hyundai supplies the vehicles but it is Public Safety that had control of the transportation. According to sources inside and even the written emails after the incident confirm that a miscommunication between parade organizers and Public Safety resulted in Dr. Silver’s car being late for the event but it did arrive before it was needed for the parade. It is also a fact that a new black Lexus SUV had been outfitted with the University President’s magnets to transport Dr. Silver and his wife in case the Hyundai did not arrive in time.

Even though two vehicles were made available to Silver and his wife, the President decided to walk, while his wife road.

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In an internal memo dated Monday, November 26, 2012, Associate Vice-President of Development at Alabama State University Zillah Fluke states,

“On Thursday (November 22,2012) morning at the TDC parade, President Silver asked me where the vehicle transport the President and First Lady was. My response to him was that I did not know and that I was not involved in that portion of the parade operation. He asked me who was responsible, my response, which was an assumption, as Vice President Danielle Kennedy. His response to me was how can everyone except the President of the university have a vehicle and no provisions we made for the president. I was not able to provide an answer and apologized. I then saw that the university president magnets were placed on Executor Director Davis’ black SUV and indicated that I believed the president will be traveling in the Executive Directors’ car. Dr.Silver responded that that was inappropriate and he was disappointed with the matter, but would deal with it.

“Dr. Silver walked towards Vice President Danielle Kennedy and proceeded to ask her where the president’s vehicle was. Unfortunately, at that point I could not hear the details of the conversation, but could see the interaction. When Dr.Knight became involved in the dialogue, it was obvious to the onlooker that the dialogue had become intense, and as a university official and alumni, I was embarrassed that the conversation had to take place in such a public forum. I do not know what the exact dialogue was, but I could tell it was not good. I even said amongst the colleagues around me “this is not a good look” and was tempted to let them know that from our vantage point the solution(president’s vehicle had arrived). At that point, they realized the car has arrived and the parade proceeded.”

It is also important to note that the “Montgomery Advertiser” quoted Silver as saying Vice President John Knight was provide a car when, in fact, Dr. Knight was never provided a Capitol Hyundai as the report implies.

In a November 26, 2012, letter addressed to Elton N. Dean, Sr. Chairman, Board of Trustees of ASU, by Vice President of University Relations Danielle Kennedy outlines her version of the events of the Turkey Day Classic.

“Dear Chairman Dean,

“I have been a higher education professional for more than 17 years, worked for six University presidents and have never experienced a heated exchange with one of them in a very public forum. On Thursday, November 22, 2012 while working the Turkey Day Classic Parade, University President Joseph Silver became highly agitated and irate when his official vehicle for the parade had not arrived.“On Wednesday afternoon, staff in the office contacted me to let me know the vehicles for the University’s presidents were ready for pick up from Capitol Hyundai. I attempted to contact Executive Director Davis for pick up; however, I was unable to reach him. At that point, I was able to reach Chief Huey Thornton who did have members of the Department of Public Safety staff pick up the vehicles and transport them to the campus Public Safety Building. The cars were on campus and ready for the parade. Cars had been secured for both President Silver and President Tochon.

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“I contacted Executive Director Davis on the morning of the parade to determine the ETA of President Silver. He said they were en route and would arrive shortly. When they arrived at the parade in Director Davis’s personal vehicle, I inquired why they were not in the Hyundai vehicle. I explained to him what had occurred the day before. Director said that he and Chief Thornton had not communicated about the vehicles, yet he immediately contacted him and arranged to have the vehicles “blue lighted” to the parade location. At that point, I felt that the car would make it time for the President to use. President Silver inquired as to the whereabouts of his car. I explained that Public Safety was to have transported him to the parade in the vehicle but because this had not occurred the vehicle was on the way. He told me that Public Safety was not responsible for his vehicle but that I was. I explained that this had always been our process and that the car was on the way. He shook his head at me, and I walked away. I checked with Director Davis again, and he again said the car was on the way. Because the car had not arrived and in order to be prepared, I placed the President and First Lady’s car magnets on Director Davis’s car.

“At the time the ASU units began to roll, the car had not made it. We placed Mrs. Silver in the Director’s car in order to keep the parade rolling in case the official car did not arrive on time. It was at that time that President Silver walked over to me and said “How does everyone else have a car but the President?” “This is wrong.” “You know this is wrong.” “You are wrong.” He said this all while raising his voice and pointing his finger at me. He was highly agitated and obviously angry with me. To try to bring closure to the situation, I said to him “The car is on the way and will be here shortly.”

“At that point, Dr. Knight came over and said “Don’t talk to her that way.” “Stop talking to her that way.” Dr. Silver repeated the comments he made to me about this being wrong. Dr. Knight said “The car is on the way.” “We will stop until the car gets here.” At that point, the car was within 30 feet of our location. Dr. Silver said “No! I will just walk.” Dr. Knight said “The car is right here. I am going to hold up the parade; I can because I am in charge of this parade.”

“The car came up and we began to change vehicles. We moved the magnets, escorted and placed Mrs. Silver in the Hyundai vehicle. Director Davis gave directions to the officer regarding his vehicle and drove Mrs. Silver in the vehicle as President Silver walked.

“This was a very uncomfortable situation for all involved. The fact that the President chose to lose his temper and take a member of his team to task in the middle of the street whiled hundreds of onlookers witnessed the exchange was highly inappropriate and did not reflect positively on him or the University. I was shaken by the exchange and had a difficult time focusing on the tasks at hand for the remainder of the day. I have experienced heated discussions and debates with supervisors but never in an open forum with member of the public present. In this instance, I felt that President Silver was not following his own edict of treating people with respect. I felt totally mistreated and disrespected.

“I take great pride in my work and work countless hours to assure that the requirements and needs for all events are well managed. More than that, I take great pride in managing the ASU brand. I would never do anything to make the University or the University President look bad. Additionally, I would never tai part in any action that would undermine all that we have done to create an image of excellence for ASU. This exchange was not good for the brand especially as it involved the CEO and members of his leadership team.

“This was a very unfortunate situation with which I would have rather not had any involvement. Please let me know if additional information is needed.

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Danielle M. Kennedy”

Kennedy acknowledge that a mix-up led to Dr. Silver’s transportation arriving later than others. Both Fluker and Kennedy agree that heated exchange took place, however, Fluker does not have knowledge of the exact conversation only her impression. Kennedy and Fluker concur to the fact that appropriate alternative transportation was provided for Silver and that the Hyundai did arrive in time for the Silvers.

Dr. Silver’s account is the one quoted in press reports by the “Montgomery Advertiser.” It varies from Fluker and Kennedy in minor but important details.

Silver’s letter to Chairman of the Board of trustees:

“Chairman Dean,

“I gave you a call yesterday and left a message for you that I had called. As per your earlier instructions to me which were to call Trustee Wiggins when you do not answer a call, I did do so on yesterday evening. Yet, I still wanted you and other Board members to be aware of my concern. My call was because of what I am feeling is an orchestrated attempt to mis-position me and misrepresent me with the Board members in the informal network and because of long time friendship that I presently do not have, I am not a party to some of those conversations. So, as a consequence, I am being portrayed very negatively to some Board Members and in some parts of the community. While I clearly understand what is going on and why, I was calling you to share the truth.

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“The most recent example took place this Thursday at the parade. When I arrived at the parade, there was no car for Mrs. Silver and me to ride in during the parade. However, the former presidents who participated in parade, city and county officials, and all other official participants had cars, but I did not and no one seemed to think that something was amiss. I inquired of Mrs. Fluker and Mrs. Kennedy as to why and how did that happen, even as that parade was starting. Mrs. Fluker stated that she was not in the loop on the matter and therefore she could not offer any information as to how this happened. Mrs. Kennedy responded that the “campus police was to bring a car” for me, and walked away. As she was walking away, I asked, “what is wrong with this picture in that the President and First Lady do not have a vehicle of the parade and everyone else does.” Mr. Knight just blurted, “don’t you talk to her like that.” To which I responded, “like what, I am just asking her a logical question.” Again, the response was “Public Safety should have gotten your car.” It was the Director of Public Safety, Dr. Davis, who transported me from the house to the parade and he stated that he had no knowledge of anything related to a parade car. He stated that no one had contacted him about getting a car to the parade. Upon learning of the situation, he did make a call back to his office to inquire about the car.

“Given that the parade about start and did actually start, I decided to walk the parade route. Mrs. Silver chose not to walk the parade route. Therefore, Director Davis indicated that he would driver her in his personal car. Mr. Knight told him to just wait for a car to arrive. Of course Mr. Davis did not know when the car would arrive because he was not in the loop. I stated again that I would walk and if Mrs. Silver wanted to ride in Mr. Davis’ car, then that was her choice. Mr. Knight stated and I quote him verbatim, “I (he) am in charge and don’t move that car.” This can be verified by my wife and Director Davis as they were present the entire time. We all were taken aback by the statement and it put Director Davis in an awkward position. I proceeded to walk and Director Davis, with my wife in his car began to follow me as I walked the parade route, because there were others being held up. One of his officers finally brought a car after the parade had started. Director Davis and Mrs. Silver exited this personal car and got into the car that the officer brought. The officer took Mr. Davis’ personal car from the parade route and parked it, I was later told. Trough all of this, I remained professional even though I knew that a car should have been there for my wife and me in our official capacity of President and First Lady.

“Given that this is what happened and the absolute truth, I was totally surprised to learn that several board members and some community folk were told that I yelled and cursed Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Fluker. This is no the truth and not even close to the truth.

“In all of my thirty plus years of professional life, I have never yelled at an employee or raised my voice at an employee. In my entire life, I have never cursed anyone. Using such words has never been a part of who I am. The good news, at least from my perspective, is that others witnessed the conversation. Director Davis, Mrs. Fluker and Mrs. Silver were present and can verify my statements. Of course Mrs. Kennedy was there also and if she is truthful, she should verify that I did not raise my voice, not did I curse here. Since Mrs. Fluker was supposed to be one of the persons “verbally victimized,” I suggest that you ask her directly. Also, you should also ask Director Davis and my wife about what I said, my tone and my demeanor. I am also willing to take a lie detector test.

“Chairman Dean, as I stated, I do not have access to the informal network having only been here a little more than two months, so there is no way I can compete with that reality. However, I do not want the access that others have, which I do not have, to cloud the reality of who I am, what I have said, or what I am doing and trying to do for the university. Having one side of a situation is not good for anyone, especially me in this situation. You hired me as president and that is what I see as my role. In carrying out that role, I must work closely with the Board on all matters. This I will do in concert with the Board, we must build upon the good things here and move the university forward. I will come every day to work hard to do just that.

“Thank you for receiving this email. It is unfortunate that I have to spend my time defending myself against something of this nature. This is a first fork me and I have been in higher education for over ;thirty years. As a Board, you should not be in this position. We all have more important things to attend to on behalf of the university. In an earlier email, I shared the financial finding that as known since January 2012, again this summer and this fall, prior to my arrival here at ASU, but was not shared with me upon my arrival or with the Board. I simply followed up on a question a Board member had asked at the September Board meeting and a conversation at a community meeting to verify. I (or the Board) should never have to find out information from a third party that puts the university at potential risk. All I have asked for is what you asked of me when I was hired, accountability, customer service, forward progress to build upon what the Board and staff had put in place. I am still very committed to that end.

“I have publicly acknowledged the good work of the Board and the administrators before my arrival, including the impact of Mr. Knight on ASU and the larger community. I will continue to do so in the future. That history cannot be changed and it is significant. Neither can his relationship with some Board members be changed and I do not expect it to, because that too is a part of history. But, it should not cloud judgement and it I should not have to be mis-positioned or mis-represented for trying to carry out my role as president and fora asking for accountability from all staff, including myself.

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“I stand ready to respond to any questions.”

As with any human intercourse, tone, tenor and body language are most often needed to assertion hostility. However, it seems that Silver perhaps rightly was upset, but by all accounts a remedy to the situation seemed to be forthcoming.

A few days later Silver fired Knight and Kennedy by iPhone email just minutes before the ASU board members went into a closed session to discuss Silver’s future.

It is difficult to imagine a Hollywood movie in which the president of a university sits across the table from two prominent members of the administration and fires them before they are about to decide the characters’ fate. Was this comedy/drama just too unbelievable to make it into the final cut?

But this is what Silver did at the meeting that would subsequently place him on administrative leave and led to his resignation.

“Montgomery Advertiser” reporter Josh Moon was the first to request the emails from ASU, in a letter to Moon, Kenneth L. Thomas, General Counsel for ASU wrote on November 29, 2012:

“Dear Josh:

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“Please find attached two emails wherein Dr. Silver purports to terminate Dr. John Knight and Mrs. Danielle Kennedy “for cause and insubordination, effective immediately.”

“Please note that these emails do not meet state and federal due process requirements for a cause termination. Further, these emails are not considered to be official notices pursuant to the Alabama State University (“ASU”) Policies and Procedures Manual and the pattern and practice of ASU. You should also note that these emails were sent from Dr. Silver’s iPhone during Monday’s Executive Committee meeting (5:37 p.m. and 5:38 p.m.) in which he was placed on administrative leave.

“I would hope that you will refer to my statements and explanations made in this letter in any story that you may produce regarding this matter so that the emails can be placed in their proper context. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or concerns regarding this matter.”

The emails read as follows:

“From: Joseph Silver

To: John Knight

cc: Carmen Douglas

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Subject: Termination

November 26, 2012, 5:38 p.m.

“Dear Mr. Knight,

“As President of Alabama State University, I am terminating you as Executive Vice President, for cause and in subordination effective immediately.

“Peace be with you

“Joseph H. Silver Sr.


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“Sent from my iPhone”

“From: Joseph Silver

To: Danielle Kennedy

Cc: Carmen Douglas

Subject: Termination

November 26, 2012 5:38 p.m.

“Mrs. Kennedy,

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“I am terminating you as Vice President for University for cause and insubordination, effective immediately.

“Peace be with you.

“J H Silver Sr.


Sent from my iPhone”

It would seem under the strict code of academia that such emails would produce a wave of concern among school officials as well as legal council.

Silver’s emails closed with, “Peace be with you,” but little was to be found.

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Soon the full media feeding frenzy ensued when Silver announced at a press conference that in October he had informed ASU trustees of his concerns about questionable contracts.

Silver told the “Montgomery Advertiser” that he “discovered some items I considered questionable and troubling, at best, and a conflict of interest at the least” while reviewing finances and contracts for the university.

“I was placed on administrative leave because I raised a few probing questions, and I refused to go along to get along. That is not my operating style,” Silver said according to the “Advertiser.”

Silver said that he, “refused to go along to get along,” this seems to be a pattern in Silver’s work history that the University should have been aware of before his hiring.

The incident has thrown suspicion on officials ranging from Attorney General Luther Strange to most of the Montgomery State Delegation, as well as contractors and anyone else who has had business dealings with ASU.

The audit ordered by Governor Robert Bentley, the price tag of around $500,000, has set tongues wagging statewide as more money is poured into a endless pit of statewide investigations.

Yet, little has been done in the way of looking at the history of Dr. Silver.

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A November 11, 2000, report by “The Augusta Chronicle” entitled “Savannah State staff seeks VP resignation,” easily pops up on any google search of Joseph Silver.

Silver came to Savannah State as Vice President for Academic Affairs along with University President Carlton Brown, they formed a self-described “Dream Team.”

But not everyone at the school found Silver and Brown a dream to work for.

According to the report, 14 faculty staff and university friends filed the letter asking for Silver’s resignation. “We often have the impression that you do not work for our interests so much as the will of your supervisors in Atlanta,” the letter said. “Indeed, you have not earned the confidence of the faculty, staff and community, and you do not deserve it. Therefore, for the following reasons, we ask for your resignation.”

The November 2000 story also states that, “For three years, the faculty has given Dr. Silver low performance evaluations based on claims that he runs the campus like a dictatorship, hires unqualified yes-men to fill key positions and intimidates those who question him. Even some faculty and staff members who didn’t wish to take sides on the issue said egotistical administrators have stymied the grievance process and left unhappy employees with little hope of relief.”

In his past positions Silver has been accused having a style that was intimidating and even by some accounts bullying.

Was Silver’s reputation as an ineffectual and egotistical administrator what led to the Turkey Day Classic confrontation? Was Silver’s charm and personal charisma so great that the search committee overlooked the fact that in 2000, faculty and staff at Savannah State University had called for Silver’s resignation?

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But this is just a small piece of information that comes to light when a search of Dr. Silver’s tenure at other universities is evaluated.

In part two, a closer look at Silver’s short time at ASU and the troubles that followed him there.

Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.



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