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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Trustee says President's poor leadership harms Ala. State

By Joe L. Reed

According to experts in trusteeship, the two most important duties for a university's board of trustees are to protect the integrity of the university and select a quality president.

I believe that the members of the board of trustees of Alabama State University have failed in both respects. I must speak out concerning the nature of these failures. I know that there are some people who will never forgive me for what I say; however, the future of ASU and the students it must serve is far more important than how some individuals may pass judgment.

Obviously, I am very proud of ASU as an institution and few would challenge my commitment to serve the university. My involvement with ASU began in 1958 when I enrolled as a freshman and worked as a custodian in Kilby Hall for 25 cents per hour. I literally flushed the toilets others would not flush and cleaned the floors others made dirty.

I became active in the affairs of the university and served as student body president my senior year, and later I served as president of the ASU National Alumni Association. My service to ASU culminated with my election as chairman of the ASU Board of Trustees in the 1990s. I am still a member of the board. For more than 45 years, I saw it as my duty to lobby the Alabama Legislature and the federal government for ASU, at my own expense, to gain funding and help ASU improve and grow.

Recently, the ASU board agreed to extend the contract of its president, Dr. Joe A. Lee, for two years. I originally voted for Dr. Lee to become president of ASU, even though I had been previously warned not to support him by people who had a deeper knowledge of Dr. Lee -- but a search committee had recommended him. I accepted that recommendation and voted for him.

I now believe that I made a mistake. I could not vote to extend his current contract, nor did I vote for his extension two years ago.

I want to believe that Dr. Lee is an upright, Christian gentleman, and a fundamentally honest family man, who would make a good next-door neighbor; however, he has not been an effective president.

The record shows that Dr. Lee has brought no vision to ASU. Practically every ASU program was in place when he arrived. Most of the buildings that are under construction on campus were on the drawing board before his arrival.

The one facility initiative to renovate six dormitories appears to be headed toward huge cost overruns and long delays. Poor management has led to this project becoming a fiasco, resulting in expensive lawsuits against ASU. Strong presidential leadership would never have allowed a routine construction project to become an embarrassment to the institution.

Dr. Lee has not been adept at handling personnel. We have numerous vacancies, including two vice presidents. We have been forced to call upon retired professors to fill vacant positions. Last year, he summarily terminated several upper-level administrators without discussing their dismissals with them. To this day, these positions remain without a permanent appointment and are being filled on an interim basis.

Dr. Lee to refuses to implement a long-standing board instruction to recommend an in-house legal counsel to reduce the exorbitant amount ASU is paying to outside lawyers.

To his detriment and the university's detriment, Dr. Lee has no firm connection to the community or the institution. This shows in his inability to raise our endowment.

Under the Knight consent decree, the state of Alabama will match contributions to ASU's endowment up to $1 million per year. The board ordered Dr. Lee to develop a plan to raise funds, but he has failed. Although ASU continues to struggle to recruit students despite its vast network of alumni and supporters, Dr. Lee has not tapped into that reservoir of good will for funding support or to bring the best and brightest to Montgomery.

Because of administrative ineffectiveness, ASU lost out on an opportunity to receive between $4 million and $6 million because of a failure to write a short, simple proposal on economic development. Troy University, Tuskegee University, Jacksonville State University, Wallace State Community College and Bishop State Community College and some other universities received millions of dollars through this program. These universities got money. ASU only got presidential excuses.

It is unfortunate that Dr. Lee has placed himself in this position. It is beyond reason for the board to continue Dr. Lee's contract when every evaluation he has received has been less than satisfactory. Incredibly, the board voted unanimously at its February 2007 meeting not to extend his contract.

The chairman notified him of this decision and Dr. Lee was preparing a letter stating that he would not accept a renewal of his current contract. In an about-face, the board chairman told him not to submit the letter and started lobbying other board members to retain Dr. Lee.

Dr. Lee has compromised the presidency of ASU and diluted its influence. He has lost the confidence of the faculty, the trust of the students and the support of many alumni. To keep Dr. Lee as president does a disservice to the entire university family.

I am saddened to say that I am not optimistic about the future of a place that I hold near and dear to my heart, a university that has helped educate generations of students and improves our state. Our university cries out for help, but a majority of the board ignores the pleas.

For the sake of Alabama State University, time has come for the alumni to come forward to demand new leadership and a vision for the future of the university.

Joe L. Reed is a former chairman and a current member of the Alabama State University board of trustees

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