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Sunday, February 01, 2009

No-shows foil AAMU's attempt to name new leader

The lack of a quorum stymied Alabama A&M University trustees attempt to name a new president Saturday. Five trustees didn't show up to Saturday's board meeting leaving those who did attend the meeting "furious". The AAMU board will try again on Monday.

At least two of the AWOL trustees were unrepentant saying they would not support a meeting to choose a president for A&M held 100 miles from the campus and shrouded in secrecy.

"I am outraged that these board members are not here," said Carol Ann Watkins of Birmingham, vice president of A&M's national alumni association. "If they don't think enough of the university to show up, they need to get off the board."

"I'm as disappointed as I've been in anything since I've been on the board," said trustee Dr. Raymond Burse. "Not fulfilling the highest and most important fiduciary duty of a board member speaks volumes. The more we delay, who gets hurt? A&M."

The five trustees who didn't show are Velma Tribue of Dothan, James Montgomery of Anniston, Madison County District Judge Lynn Sherrod, Robert Avery of Gadsden and Emma Melton of Tuscaloosa.

Melton was having none of the criticism.

"I was concerned about meeting off-campus," she said later. "I was concerned about all of the secrecy surrounding the meeting and the process. All of the board members should have had all the relevant material well in advance, and we did not. And the search agency, which is an excellent agency, was never approved by the full board."

"I have a problem with doing it off-campus," agreed trustee Robert Avery of Gadsden. "If they'll meet on campus, I don't have a problem."

The process that picked the finalists - Dr. Lawrence Davenport of Florida, Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr. of South Carolina and Dr. Rodney Smith of Virginia - began with the trustees naming a search committee last April.

That committee met repeatedly with the private search firm and interviewed candidates, but the meetings were not announced and no records were kept, according to A&M attorney Rod Steakley.

Houston accountant Odysseus Lanier, a former trustee and vice chairman of the search committee, angrily defended the panel.

Every constituency on campus was represented, he said, and the committee was not dominated by board President Pro Tem Dr. Shefton Riggins or anyone else.

"No matter what you hear, no matter what you read, we had no puppet master in this process. ..." Lanier said. "We announced to the full board, regardless of what some members may say, what was taking place with the selection process.

"I have taken great pains to hold this process in the center of the freeway with full disclosure, and that's what we have done."

Lanier went on to warn the board about issues raised while narrowing the field from 21 candidates to a final three.

"The market ... is speaking to you right now," Lanier said. "This is a pivotal decision to be made. We got a group of good candidates, but it took a long time to get 'em because of the perceived turmoil at Alabama A&M University, and you need to understand that."

The board listened to brief statements from each finalist Saturday and left citing bylaws that allow it to adjourn one day at a time until a quorum is reached. Riggins said the board won't meet today, but will attempt to meet Monday at a time and location to be announced.


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