By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
A week prior to the annual Turkey Day Classic football game last month at Alabama State University, ASU employees discovered that someone had broken into the school’s football stadium and cut a fiber optic wire – a costly act that threatened some of the activities planned for the game.
The act of vandalism also inadvertently revealed another issue to university trustees: While inquiring about the progress on catching those responsible, trustees learned from campus police that there was no video available because the university’s security cameras all around campus were out of operation.
In a cost-saving move not presented to the trustees, ASU president Gwendolyn Boyd had authorized the cameras to be turned off last May.
Two trustees who spoke with APR about the matter on condition of anonymity said they were “stunned” to learn about the cameras – most of which were installed several years ago as part of a campus-wide upgrade of security following a number of incidents on campus.
“I know we need to save money, but there are certain things you just don’t sacrifice and student safety is at the very top of that list,” one of the trustees said. “If you combine this with the fact that we’ve allowed inmates with violent records to enter buildings and dorm rooms … I can only say that we are extremely fortunate that something very, very bad hasn’t occurred.”
For some trustees, the security camera issue is the latest in a long line of communication issues between Boyd and the board. That board will meet at 1 p.m. on Friday to decide whether Boyd, who was placed on suspension for failing to maintain the confidence of the trustees, will remain as the school’s president.
Sources close to the board told APR earlier this week that Boyd’s fate has been determined since she was placed on leave in early November and that Friday’s meeting is a mere formality.
Behind the scenes this week, there has been a push to finalize her termination, ensuring that trustees stay aligned and votes are secure. Two trustees told APR that there are “at least nine” of the 15 board members who want to fire Boyd.
But those votes aren’t on the record yet, and there has been a last-minute effort to save Boyd – one led by a familiar face.
There’s also the matter of where the university goes if that effort fails – who steps in to fill the void.
First, the save attempt.
On Wednesday afternoon, former ASU board chairman, civil rights leader and Acadome namesake Joe Reed rose from the ashes one more time. A longtime trustee and longtime thorn in the side of anyone who opposed him, Reed was once a staple at ASU, and many have blamed his behind-the-scenes influence for the numerous investigations and scandals that have plagued ASU in recent years.
For years, Reed, and his loyal supporters, stood in opposition to the most recognizable ASU names: Donald Watkins, Elton Dean, John Knight and Marvin Wiggins. The two sides fought often and fought dirty.
Through attrition and various appointments, Reed lost control of the board in the mid-2000s, and his downfall was swift and hard. The most crushing blow – and one of the pettiest episodes in ASU history – was the removal of his name from the school’s basketball arena.
But while Reed was down, he was not out. And sporadically, he has used his influence – as the head of the state’s Democratic Party – and means – he also was an executive secretary in charge of the legal division of AEA – to cause his old foes heartburn. And even when Reed wasn’t behind a problem, those foes often blamed it on him.
Boyd was Reed’s pick to become the next ASU president following the upheaval surrounding former president Joseph Silver’s exit – upheaval that was again blamed on Reed by many at ASU. Selecting Boyd blocked the favorite candidate of Reed’s foes – state Sen. Quinton Ross.
On Wednesday, Reed sent a letter to trustees and released it to media outlets. In that letter he called Boyd’s potential firing a mistake and promised litigation if trustees carried through with it. Reed called the charges against Boyd “frivolous” and “trumped up.”
He offered this advice on firing Boyd: “Don’t do it, you will be making a big mistake.”
It is likely advice that is coming too late to matter.
The board’s unhappiness with Boyd has stretched past petty personal differences and long-running feuds. A number of board members who are completely removed from the old battles, and who have no personal axes to grind, have seemingly lost faith in Boyd.
At the most recent board meeting, at which Boyd talked with the trustees about their concerns, at least five trustees openly accused Boyd of lying to them. That number included one trustee who originally voted not to fire her.
Boyd also has apparently lost the protection of Gov. Robert Bentley, who played a large role in getting Boyd hired as president. Bentley also made it a point, even while in the midst of a personal scandal, to vote by phone in Sept. 2015 to give Boyd a three-year extension. But the governor has been noticeably absent from the last two board meetings – at which Boyd was placed on suspension and then argued to keep her job.
Asked for comment on the current situation or if he planned to attend Friday’s meeting, Bentley’s office didn’t respond.
That would seem to spell the end for Boyd. If that’s the case, the next question is: Who’s next?
Two trustees told APR earlier this week that a replacement had not yet been selected and that the board would likely leave provost Leon Wilson in charge in an interim role.
But rumors that the trustees plan to move swiftly and appoint Ross president on Friday will not die. Reed hinted at that move in his letter when he reminded the trustees that it might be illegal to appoint a president without a proper search.
Ross recently spoke to APR about the possibility of becoming ASU’s next president, but he provided few definitive answers. Instead, Ross said only that the job still intrigues him, but that his previous experience has left him wary.
The trustees don’t appear to be much more comfortable.
“We have so much to deal with right now, I don’t think we can even entertain the idea of appointing someone else – just because there isn’t time to discuss it,” one trustee said. “We have a lot of problems at our university. Getting those solved is our goal right now.”