By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
It has been a shocking two weeks for the students, faculty, and alumni at Alabama State University (ASU). First came emergency meetings to address the finances at the Montgomery historically Black university. Then came the University’s SACS accreditation being put on a six month probation, because of alleged inappropriate financial relationships between the University and two members of its Board of Trustees (BOT) that were raised during a forensic audit of the University. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) then asked the two prominent BOT members to resign because of the alleged conflict of interest for the good of the school.
Chairman of the BOT Elton Dean did that on Thursday, July 24. BOT member Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins refused because he said he did nothing wrong, so Gov. Bentley used his executive powers to remove Wiggins on Friday, July 25. Over the weekend, Bentley appointed Ralph Ruggs to the board. Mr. Ruggs is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority and is a Bessemer resident.
On Monday, July 28 Gov. Bentley appointed Pam Ware to the ASU BOT and has called a special meeting of the Alabama State University Board of Trustees for August 8. Pam Ware is a Montgomery resident and is the manager of intergovernmental affairs for the Business Council of Alabama (BCA).
The special BOT meeting will be held at 2 p.m. on August 8 in the boardroom of the Dunn-Oliver Acadome at ASU. Both of the new appointees will still have to be approved by the Alabama Senate when the legislature returns for the 2015 legislative session.
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.
The SACS accreditation crisis followed a week of urgent meetings of the BOT and school officials concerning the finances 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 had retired from the historically Black college in Montgomery after an organizational shakeup in which new ASU President Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd decreased the number of Vice Presidents from 9 to 5 and made all of the remaining VPs answerable directly to her instead of having some of the Vice President positions responsible directly to the BOT. Knight’s position was one which had reported directly to the BOT.
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. Dr. Harris was brought back after his successor Dr. Joseph Silver was let go after he alleged that there were improper financial relationships between some BOT members and ASU.
In one angry BOT meeting, President Silver fired Executive Vice President and state Representative John Knight (D) from Montgomery by text message, before being fired himself by Elton 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 Solutions, 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 uncovered no financial improprieties and ASU sued the forensic auditor. Gov. Bentley has since forwarded the forensic audit to Federal and State authorities for further review. Moody’s has since lowered ASU’s credit rating and the University has struggled to raise money from donors and alumnae.
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.
ASU paid President Silver $685,000 in a mutual separation agreement with the University that included a confidentiality agreement.
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.
Former ASU BOT member Donald Watkins blasted new President Gwendolyn Boyd over the weekend on Facebook and vowed to end her tenure as President. President Boyd has formally and publicly distanced ASU from attorney Donald Watkins. Wiggins had been a vocal supporter of Watkins.