By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, July 22 Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) sent letters to both Alabama State University (ASU) Board of Trustees Chairman Elton Dean and Board of Trustees member Marvin Wiggins asking them to resign from their positions for the good of the school.
In the letter to Dean, the Governor cited the recent downgrading of ASU by Moody’s, a failure to disclose his son in law and daughter’s financial relationships with the school on his ethics form, a recent effort to change the bylaws to make it harder to remove members of the Board of Trustees, and the fact that he and
Wiggins had both been cited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission of Colleges (SACS) as justification for their decision to place a six month warning on ASU’s accreditation.
In the letter to Chairman Dean, Gov. Bentley wrote, “Out of deep concern for the future of ASU, the student body, its accreditation and financial standing, I am compelled to request your voluntary resignation as a member of the Board of Trustees of Alabama State University immediately. The deadline for response to this request is close of business, 5:00 p.m., Thursday, July 24, 2014.” A similar letter was sent to Wiggins.
The University received the letter from SACS on Friday.
Governor Bentley’s call for the resignations followed similar demands from Student Government Association President Darren Dubose, ASU Dean Alma Freeman, and other influential members of the ASU family including the Chair of the Faculty Senate.
This current crisis follows a week of urgent meetings of the BOT and school officials concerning the financial crisis at ASU.
On Friday, April 25, the Alabama Political Reporter reported that longtime Alabama State University Executive Vice President and state Representative John Knight (D) from Montgomery has retired from the historically Black college in Montgomery.
Representative Knight’s retirement came just four months after the Alabama State University Board of Trustees (BOT) chose ASU alum, Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd to serve as its new president. Boyd is only the 14th President in ASU’s 146 year history and the first woman to serve as President. President Boyd succeeded interim President and President Emeritus, Dr. William H. Harris.
ASU has struggled through a turbulent 22 months ordeal where accusations of financial wrongdoing has circled around Dean and other members of the ASU leadership.
In April Boyd reorganized the leadership team at ASU and decreased the number of Vice-Presidents from 9 to just 5, all of whom will answer directly to the President. Knight’s position of Executive Vice President answered directly to the Board of Trustees under the complex leadership structure previously used by Alabama State so he accepted retirement.
The selection of Boyd came after an exhaustive year long search. The previous ASU President, Joseph Silver, was fired after accusing the ASU BOT of acting in an unethical manner. In one angry BOT meeting, President Silver fired state Representative John Knight (D) from Montgomery by text message, before being fired himself by the Dean and the BOT after less than 90 days on the job. Knight was reinstated days later because Silver did not follow proper procedures.
Following the Silver episode, Governor Bentley ordered a forensic audit of ASU’s finances. The auditor, Forensic Strategic Solution, uncovered several contracts where it alleged that current and former BOT members’ families may have profited from contracts with ASU. The auditors also charged that ASU officials including the BOT hindered their investigation.
ASU’s own investigation has since uncovered no financial improprieties and ASU has sued the forensic auditor. Gov. Bentley has forwarded the forensic audit to federal and state authorities for further review. To this point there has been no indictments of anyone at ASU, but speculation and rumors about that possibility have been hanging over the Montgomery University for almost a year now.
Silver would never serve another day as President. Eventually he received $685,000 in a mutual separation agreement with the university.
The State Attorney General’s office has an ongoing investigation into allegations of improper use of state dollars at Alabama State University. Attorney General Luther Strange has recused himself from the investigation because he represented ASU prior to being elected and has appointed District Attorney Chris McCool to serve as the acting attorney general.
Alabama State University was a client of Strange before he was elected as Alabama Attorney General.
As of press time there was no word as to whether Dean and Wiggins would resign or not.