Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

UAB, UAH hope for more board diversity

Rising tensions between the schools of the University of Alabama system and their board of trustees seem to have been relaxed by increased cooperation from the Board and the appointment of Robert Witt as the chancellor of the system.

Many figureheads across the state have spoken out against the makeup of the system’s board of trustees, especially because of a perceived underrepresentation of the interests of the University’s campuses in Birmingham and Huntsville. One of those figures is trustee emeritus Cleo Thomas, who said the issue was one of the greatest facing the University.

“The interest of the University of Alabama [at Tuscaloosa] is overrepresented on the board of trustees,” Thomas said. “It’s appallingly insular because inbreeding attributes to insularity. It’s a result of inbreeding and active hostility to true diversity.”

There are currently no alumni from UAH on the 14-member board, and only two who graduated from UAB. This, Thomas said, has been prohibiting them from having a voice in decisions that affect them.

“There’s nobody on the board to speak up in opposition for them,” Thomas said. “But we get the government we deserve. If it mattered to somebody, someone would speak up. Apparently, it doesn’t matter. Apparently, everybody’s satisfied with it. Apparently, they like it.”

Tommy Battle, the mayor of Huntsville, had similar sentiments near the end of October when he sent a letter to UA’s board of trustees, whom he addressed as the guardians of the University of Alabama system. In it, he implored them to take more consideration of the universities in Birmingham and Huntsville, as statewide conversation began suggesting that those schools remove themselves from the UA system and create boards of trustees of their own.

“Our community has become increasingly disenfranchised with the structure of the UA system,” the letter read. “I urge you to take a deeper look at the procedures that created this divisiveness and to make corrections so that Huntsville does not become permanently distanced from our university.”

The stability of the system, though, seems to have recovered from those uncertain times.

“Since we’ve had those conversations about underrepresentation, we have had great response from both the chairman of the Board of Trustees, Paul Bryant and the full set of trustees from this area,” Battle said Tuesday. “We feel like we’ve got a positive start on the future. It takes two sides to work through issues like this, and we’re willing to do our part, and the University is beginning to show that they’re willing to do their part.”

“At this point, I don’t see an advantage to our system withdrawing from the UA system,” Battle said. “We’ve just got to make sure that we have the tools to prosper in the future, to grow just like the other campuses do. Every indication we’ve had from the trustees and our local president has us looking forward to a good future working with the system and working with the University of Alabama in Huntsville.”

In editorials and in blog posts from around the state, some have raised concerns that Witt, having spent a decade as president in Tuscaloosa, would perpetuate insularity on the board and prioritize the interests of this school before those of UAB and UAH. The presidents of the universities in Birmingham and Huntsville, though, disagree with that sentiment.

Robert Altenkirch, the president of UAH, said the UA system would flourish under Witt, and he had no intentions of withdrawing from the system.

“The University of Alabama has made tremendous progress under the direction of Dr. Witt, from enrollment growth to expansion of the physical plant to national recognition,” Altenkirch said. “His leadership will be of benefit to the system as a whole. We look forward to working with Dr. Witt to nurture the growth of our campus as part of the University of Alabama system.”

UAB President Carol Garrison agreed with those sentiments.

“Bob Witt and I are longtime colleagues,” Garrison said. “We are already working together in his new role as chancellor, and I look forward to working with him to continue moving UAB forward.”

The situation is far from perfect, Battle concluded, but said that true progress had been made and would continue under Witt’s guidance.

“Ultimately I’d like to see us have a UAH graduate on the board,” Battle said. “That’s an ultimate thing, it’s down the road, but as we have new board members come on, I think it’s just imperative that we have representatives from not only UAH, but also UAB and UAT on that board so that each person can put their perspective into it, what it meant to go to school at that particular university.”

To start, Battle said Huntsville only needed to continue growing what will be a long and successful relationship with Witt and the board.

“We look forward to a working relationship with [Witt] as we work towards making UAH what we have always known it to be: a premiere school of engineering, technology and research,” Battle said. “I think we’re seeing some of the first steps in a lot of that happening. Every indication I have seen of Dr. Witt is that he is a very honorable person who will work hard for all three universities in the system”

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