MONTGOMERY, Ala., June 6, 2007 -- Postsecondary Chancellor Bradley Byrne reiterated at a press conference on Tuesday that he will have his recommendations for the State Board of Education to consider on June 28th regarding the problems at Shelton State and Bishop State community colleges and the future of Shelton State President Rick Rogers and Bishop State President Yvonne Kennedy.
Shelton State funds were allegedly used to build a home for Rogers among other allegations and at Bishop State to date 27 college employees and their relatives are facing criminal charges related to financial aid and money from sports program. Bishop State is also on probation by its accrediting agency.
Byrne was asked if he had it within his powers as chancellor to dismiss presidents and said, "I make a recommendation. It's my understanding that under the law I make a recommendation to the board for dismissal and then if the board chooses to agree with that they have to vote by majority vote to do that. That's certainly the way that was done in 1995 when Pres. McClammy was fired at Trenholm State. "
He says he does not know yet what his recommendation on the two presidents will be.
"No, I know what I can do. I just need to know more about what's happening at the individual institutions. I don't presume that any of my presidents are poor managers. I presume that my presidents know what they're doing and they're good managers. But, if I find information to the contrary, then I'm going to have to make hard decisions and make the appropriate recommendation to the board."
" We have a process in place to make the factual determinations there and we're going to do that. Once again that's not a criminal investigation or prosecution - it's a different thing altogether. We're looking at management and leadership practices. We'll let other people deal with whatever people want to deal with involving criminal investigations, if there are any with regard to that. I don't know."
"Obviously there's an investigation going on at Bishop State. We've already had some people who have already been charged and arrested on campus. But I don't know of anybody that's suggested that the president at Bishop State or at Shelton State is guilty of a crime or is being investigated for a crime. That's not something I'm involved with. My standard is and has to be higher than that (whether they violated the law) and I believe the board standard is that to."
Asked hypothetically if he were going to recommend a president be fired it might not be prudent to request the person's resignation beforehand, Byrne told assembled reporters:
"I haven't really thought about it in those terms. Let me say it differently. I've already had some discussions with the two presidents that are involved in Shelton and Bishop. I'm sure I'll have more and through those discussions a lot of things can happen."
"I can tell you so far, I've not asked for anybody's resignation; no one's offered their resignation and I don't anticipate neccessarily that that's going to occur between now and the 28th. We have a process that we are working through, some of the staff in the department. We're making sure that we've done our homework and done it right, so that when we make whatever recommendation we're going to make to the board it's one that we've done our homework on and thought through and that we feel that we can substantiate - whatever it is."
Byrne was asked if during his previous eight-years on the State Board of Education he regarded Bishop State President Yvonne Kennedy as a competent manager?
"I was not in a position to review her direct management. I did have some meetings with the department staff about concerns that I had based upon examiner's audits and then I relied upon the staff as I think it's appropriate for the board to do to determine whether or not there was some deficiency in management based upon what was in the audits. I didn't go beyond going to the staff and saying here's the audit; here's what I see in the audit; and then they followed up from there."
"I'm in a different position now. I'm not a policy maker per se on the board. I don't provide that general board oversight. I'm in an executive position. So I have a much stronger obligation in my judgment to look very hard at the management of our institutions and make sure they're appropriate."
"... All I know is there were some negative findings in audits and I made sure as the board member from that part of the state that I sat down and talked to the staff about it. I never heard anybody say anything back to me to indicate that there wasn't some adequte resolution of those issues."
Byrne says he has a high standard but things often depend on circumstances.
"I hate to say, it depends on the circumstances. Certainly you expect anyone in an executive position to know what they can know about the operations of each of the divisions in their company. That's part of being an executive in any situation. There are some situations where some things can occur, and because of the way they were done, there is no way the executive could have known they were happening - a sophisticated fraud for example."
"When I was in law, I had clients that had some of their most trusted employees that have done some bad things. And despite what the company thought were adequate internal controls, they weren't identified until after some money had been taken. So, I don't think in and of itself the fact that there have been arrests that necessarily in and of itself shows that there is some deficiency in management. But the question remains, what did management do to determine what's going on within that entity before these things occurred? What has management done since then?"
"Are there still some deficiencies in the operation of that institution? I think that's a pretty good question to ask under any circumstances. Those are the questions we're asking. I will say this - I'm not a criminal prosecutor, so what I'm talking about doesn't have anything to do with crimes. There are other people that deal with crimes. I'm looking at situations involving the appropriate management and leadership at our schools."
"There are people, if you read the Wall Street Journal or the major business publications, you'll see high paid CEOs that are discharged all the time, not for crimes but just because they weren't doing a good enough job. So the standards we would apply to our presidents, the standards I would apply to my staff in the department is something much higher than have you committed a crime. The question is - are you doing your job? Are you doing it right? Are you providing appropriate leadership in managing your school or your department appropriately?"
"That's just something that in my judgment that is much higher than have you committed a crime. You could be crime free and not meet other standards. Can I make the decision to recommend that a president be terminated if I think the circumstances warrant it? Yes."
Byrne says there is a difference between the policies that affect regular staff at the department who "serve at the pleasure of the chancellor," and do not "require board approval," and staff at the colleges who fall "under the Fair Dismissal Act" and are handled differently. He says, "Presidents are not under the Fair Dismissal Act - that's a decision between the chancellor and the board."
Regarding ongoing investigations in general, the man tasked with cleaning up the two-year college system and moving it forward says the system is not operating as a criminal enterprise.
"I wouldn't agree that our system is a criminal operation. Obviously have we had some things occur within our system that have had to be dealt with by the criminal authorities, yes. There is obviously with ongoing investigations there's always the possibility of more. I can't do anything about the past. What I can do working with the department staff, working with the college presidents, working with the colleges is to make sure that we are doing everything we are supposed to do to follow the law going forward."
"Now I've got to tell you, based upon what I've learned the last 12 days, it's my belief the vast majority of people within our system wake up every day, go to work, obey the laws, play by the rules, and do their jobs and do them well. We have a few people that are giving the rest of the system a bad name and that's unfortunate."
"I've learned that their investigations are pretty broad-based and will take some period of time to conclude. So, not that I thought this to begin with, but any notion that these were going to be rapidly wound up and we wouldn't be dealing with them after a short period of time is not the case at all. They don't give me any indication as to who their targets are, exactly how many people they're looking at, etc. But, they've given me enough indication to know that this is something that's going to take some time and that makes it all the more important that we cooperate with them so that we can help them hasten that process as much as possible."
"I've had some conversations with them, the different authorities that are investigating the system and we will cooperate completely with them... Obviously, there's a lot that goes on in these criminal investigations that cannot be shared with us in advance of whatever action they're going to take, but I've been pleased with the fact that they've been willing to talk with me and at least give me some general parameter, however general it may be, about what's going on..."
The new chancellor told reporters as he has since he left the Senate to take up the postsecondary system, "We're going to put the past behind us in terms of the operation of this department and the system and make sure we are as clean as a whistle going forward."