Ken Hare In Depth: ASU trustees have met the enemy, and it is them

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - If anyone had any doubt about where the roots of Alabama State University's management problems are buried, two ASU trustees exposed them for all to see in an exchange of letters and meetings with the university's reform-minded new president recently.

To paraphrase politically astute comic strip character Pogo, "They have met the enemy and it is them."

Comic strip artist Walt Kelly used Pogo the possum to satirize and poke fun at politics and public officials for more than two decades until his death in 1973. It's too bad Pogo isn't still around; he would have had a field day with the ASU trustees.

In an exchange of letters with ASU President Gwendolyn Boyd, trustees Elton Dean and Marvin Wiggins made it clear that they place their prerogatives as trustees ahead of cleaning up the management issues that plague ASU.

Trustee Chairman Dean and Vice Chairman Wiggins also raise questions about whether they truly want a president who actually will run the university, or whether they prefer a figurehead who will let them and their political cronies run it.

When former ASU President Joseph Silver showed that he was actually going to run the university, the trustees ran him off after only three months on the job, paying him $685,000 in public money to go away.

Now it looks as if they might be setting their new president up for a similar fate if she tries to be anything but a figurehead who allows them to micro manage the day-to-day affairs of the university.

In a letter to Boyd dated April 28, Dean wrote: "I write this letter to you on behalf of the board of trustees out of profound concern with regard to the way you have chosen to manage your interaction and relationship with the ASU board. It is unclear what has caused a shift from our very open, communicative and positive relationship to one that appears to be acrimonious and contentious, and to borderline on blatant disrespect and insubordination."

Boyd fired back that same day in a letter to Dean, writing: "It is with shock and dismay that I read your stated correspondence, which does not reflect accurately the events which transpired or the cordial relationship that I thought I had with members of the Board of Trustees. I respect the authority of the Board of Trustees and was dismayed to learn from your letter and your assessment of me that you feel I have been 'acrimonious and contentious.' Each time you have come to my office or talked with me on the phone or sent me a text message, I have responded and thought we had a good dialogue. In my opinion your assessment of me is unfair and inaccurate."

Boyd then referred in her letter to Wiggins trying to get her to intervene with the FBI over the sexual harassment lawsuit that ASU lost that involved state Rep. John Knight in his role as executive vice president of ASU.

That raises the questions of why Wiggins wants to involve Boyd, who wasn't even at ASU when the harassment occurred or even when the court ruled against the university. All I can think of is that Wiggins was trying get her to use her credibility to get the case overturned. No matter her reason, Boyd's instinct to stay out of the issue was right.

She wrote to Dean that she did not feel the university should be "engaged in any more legal issues around this because it had already been adjudicated and appealed. Even if we won that battle, the University would have lost the war."

As for the tone of the meeting with Wiggins, Boyd wrote:  "Yes, I did stand my ground with him. I absolutely will not be bullied, intimidated, coerced or harassed by Trustee Wiggins. His tone with me was unprofessional and demeaning."

In a letter to Boyd, Wiggins apologized for what he called Boyd's "perception" that he was trying to bully her, but said he was "alarmed" at her assessment of the meeting and called it "inaccurate and untrue."

ASU has serious management issues. Despite Dean's recent tirade that tried to blame all of ASU's problems on the news media, there are all sorts of outside indications of those problems.

For instance, a forensic audit found abuse of power by trustees and the wasting of hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money over a Medicaid contract. A bond rating agency dropped ASU's rating because of financial and management issues. A consulting firm recommended major changes to the university's organization chart.

But based on comments by the governor's representative on the board after a recent trustee meeting, the most serious issues facing ASU are ongoing federal and state criminal probes.

Those are not creations of the news media. They are serious issues that Boyd seems intent on addressing, and that Dean and some other trustees seem intent on trying to pretend aren't real.

Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at

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