Robert Bentley’s Alabama State Intervention Makes Bad Culture Worse
It seems like public HBCUs in the south can’t earn their political stripes until they square up with a conservative, undermining governor with unreasonable authority over their existence. FAMU has Rick Scott, and the Southern System has Bobby Jindal. While Alabama Governor Robert Bentley doesn’t rise to the ‘eminent’ level on the HBCU threat alert system, his outspokenness on ASU’s current controversy isn’t helpful to the Board and the university community moving towards a better and more stable place of leadership.
As rough as things may seem with Alabama State’s ongoing leadership controversy, it is the continuing presence of state Governor Bentley that compounds matters for the worse. Bentley announced yesterday that his role would only be advisory in establishing a search committee for the university’s new president, citing board bylaws which give committee appointment authority to Board Chair Elton Dean.
It was the second instance in one day where Bentley showed a lack of policy savvy or cultural sensitivity when it comes to the state’s higher education culture. The Governor also showed a lack of disregard for gender equity when he announced 17 candidates for two vacancies with the Auburn University Board of Trustees, with only one female to make the cut.
It’s clear he doesn’t see fit to replace board members, despite the regular turnover the school has experienced with four presidential transitions in 12 years. It’s clear that he doesn’t find fault in their decision-making, as he has proffered little resistance to their removal of Joseph Silver after just two months.
So if he finds no frailty in the Alabama State board leadership, why is Bentley now such a presence on its working matters, when he hasn’t been nearly as present on pressing issues at the University of Alabama or Auburn?
Perhaps there is a hero complex associated with being the all-knowing Governor swooping in to lend expertise and calm to a boiling situation at one of the two prominent state-supported historically black colleges. Perhaps there is a political motivation for being so closely associated with ASU’s needs, and for wanting to personally stamp the selection of its next president.
Or maybe he just needed something to do during the break between Alabama’s SEC title and its appearance in the BCS national championship.
In either circumstance, Alabama State’s leadership reclamation project hasn’t gained an ounce of public confidence because of Bentley’s involvement. On a smaller scale, the governor has mimicked the improper legislative intervention in black college affairs mastered by Scott and Jindal, but has stopped short of outright trying to have a president fired or the university merged with a PWI.
If the board is capable and genuine in serving the best interests of Alabama State and its community, Bentley ought to back off and let the board do its work. If there are problems, he should move to act in the best interest of solving them. So far, his action has been a lot of talk, a little knowledge, and has invited more questions about his role, authority and intent in the university’s future.
And none of those elements will help Alabama State attract and keep a great president, or improve the board’s ability to work with a new campus CEO.
Perhaps Bentley deserves credit for not going all the way in with a public anti-ASU agenda, but his increased presence on the board shouldn’t be interpreted as a pro-ASU agenda, either.