Breaking News at UA

Posted on January 22, 2022

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When I was teaching, and for a few years chairing the Dept. of History, I had no idea, nor did I particularly care, about what was going at the top levels of administration that ran the University. No one stuck their political finger in my job, how we hired faculty, how we managed our affairs, etc. etc.

 Now hiring practices at UA resemble check lists for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) rules or orders. I retired in 2013 when we were doing our thing, quite well thank you. Then it all went downhill. 

I did a bit of research and discovered that the office of DEI only came into being along about 2015 or 2016. The year before the Faculty Senate pushed the President to do something about how sororities voted in new members and how some UA students perhaps illegally voted in the last local election. The result was the creation of the Division of DEI, an astounding leap from solving a few local issues to buying in to the emerging national standard of DEI.

DEI evolved from a way of dealing with the problems of the nation in the 1950s and 1960s (Critical Theory), and it later evolved into Critical Race Theory to explain the problems of the nation as basically issues of race, privilege, and power. As race, sex, ethnicity, minorities, LGBTQs, victimization were all elevated to what Universities were devoted to solving, the old standards of excellence were dropped, and DEI principles and rules substituted. This was not just our problem here in River City.

A bill before the Legislature, the Oliver-Crawford Equality Act, is a huge step forward, defining and banning the worst aspects of DEI in higher education. The Legislature is asking some tough questions on how UA is, for example, spending huge amounts of income produced by a student population that is now over 60% from out of state, to ballooning salaries of high administrators, ridiculous perks for the Board of Trustees, and other questions related to UA in national academic polls: for example, there is almost a direct relationship to the decline of UA in the polls as DEI increases. Is this what the public with a direct interest in higher education expects?

Why does the administration push on, creating more than twenty new administrative posts devoted entirely to DEI in the past five years? And, as an old faculty member, I’m really curious as to why the administrative staff has doubled in the past twenty to thirty years, as opposed to the faculty, now less than half the number compared to administrators. What are our priorities? The logo at the entrance to the University read “Teaching, Research, Service.” It might better read today “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

 UA had to come a long way to meet the challenges of civil rights, segregation, and integration from the 1950s forward, like all of the South. New England, the northern Atlantic coast states, the Midwest, California, and the West, they did not have to deal with segregation and its end like we did. They have their own set of racial and ethnic prejudices but that’s another story.

 The people who ran the University—the ones who I responded to, from David Mathews to Joab Thomas and others in the administration—Doug Jones as Dean of Arts & Sciences—did a great job of accommodating to being a university for truly all Alabamians. Dr. Earl Tilford has written about it in his books and articles on the history of UA and it wasn’t an easy move, but we did it.

We made civil rights come to pass right here in the center of the Old South. By 2008-2009 (and I have read some of court findings and admonitions) we were integrated, maybe still with white fraternities and sororities and the new Black ones, but some folks didn’t WANT to join a sorority or fraternity that didn’t reflect their interests, and often their color.

And then DEI came on campus and said we have it all wrong. Sorry, but we have come a long way, fought for the rights of ALL Alabamians to enjoy the challenges and freedoms, and learning available to them at UA, and I don’t want to see us lose that. Cleo Thomas, the first Black president of the SGA, was an old student of mine and I remember him well, a young man growing up in the new world of justice and freedom for all. 

I know we have not achieved the perfect university, or the perfect world obviously. No one has.  

There are problems, flaws, challenges, people we disagree with, and some who are just dead wrong.

But a university should be a place of freedom, freedom to talk, freedom of speech, freedom to exchange and argue the principles and issues that surround us, and, not secondarily, but right up there with freedom, a place to put your mind and will and soul and spirit to work to realize your dreams, and if they include others like in the Christian message, even better.

Nick Saban has made a great life stressing, demanding, and encouraging his guys to be the very best. I think his model is far better than one coming out of DEI which stresses victimization and race as the keys to a university education.