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February 2, 1999


Tiny Tim Versus Ebenezer Scrooge

The Harbinger in its November 11/3-11/16 edition ran an editorial by Dan Silvers exhorting the Administration at USA and the USA Foundation to be more considerate of one another. Silvers thinks that "both sides are pigheaded and wrong"-- the Foundation because it is scrooging the university at a time when it is in need of money through circumstances beyond its control, and the USA administration because it is "treating the Foundation like a rich and stupid uncle."

Well, maybe so, but as in all matters where desire and money are the themes of the Mob.Reg. soap opera which casts the USA Foundation as Scrooge and the USA Board and Administration as a poor crippled Tiny Tim, the maudlin sentimentality of the script is very likely to delude the audience into thinking that Scrooge is beating up Tiny Tim when, if the truth be known, Tiny Tim is using his crutch on the back of poor old Scrooge. In Act I, Mayer Mitchell accused President Whiddon of politicking in Montgomery to have Mitchell, Brunson, and Nix non- reappointed to the Board of Trustees. (If Dr Whiddon did this Scrooge-like deed to Tiny-like Mitchell, it's now becoming very evident it's a shame he didn't succeed.) In Act II, the Mitchell CABAL did what they could to discredit Dr. Whiddon. (Remember all those charges Tiny made about how Dr. Scrooge was to blame for running up construction costs for the Mitchell Family Center.) In Act III, Dr. Whiddon resigned and scotched all overtures to make him Lord High Chancellor. He & his associates, much to the consternation of the USA Board, took up residency in the USA Foundation. To date, efforts to dislodge them have failed. This barebones outline brings us to Act IV and the dispute between the USA Administration and the USA Foundation over Foundation money.

The big issue now is: Does Scrooge have the right to disburse his discretionary funds as he sees fit, or must he bow to the Tiny Tim's demand that Scrooge provide every year a five percent lump sum of his assets for Tiny Tim to spend as he sees fit? Nota bene: Tiny is not interested in five percent of the discretionary funds; he wants five percent of the Foundation's assets. The trouble with this plot depicting Dr. Whiddon and the USA Foundation in the role of Scrooge, i.e., as a heartless old skinflint in need of a conversion experience, and Tiny Tim in the role of the administration/Board, i.e., as a poor pathetic cripple put upon mercilessly by the miserly Scrooge, is that such a plot, with its calculated arousal of sympathies for the underdog, blocks a more realistic assessment of the situation existing between the two combatants.

Why would Dr. Whiddon hightail it to the USA Foundation rather than accept being kicked upstairs into a ceremonial office? Surely he is nobody's fool; surely he saw the insult of summarily being made a figurehead. It appears to me that Dr. Whiddon hightailed it to the USA Foundation because he knew that Tiny Tim, while not really poor and pathetic, does lack sufficient pia mater, and would not spend the USA Foundation's money granted to him wisely. That is, he knew very well that some members of the current Board of Trustees at USA are a real threat to the integrity and mission of USA Foundation and thus to the integrity and mission of the University of South Alabama. The proof is in the pudding. Tiny Tim with his tiny mind and love of luxury, after putting much money in his own purse in the form of fat raises for his confederates, would spend his yearly five percent foolishly on his first love, the pigskin follies. Of course, he is not so dumb that he would come right out and say so. Instead, he talks gravely about how management by "management culture" will be good for the university and good for the community. Here's a sample from Jack Brunson, one of the trustee guru's of management culture: "I look at it [the university] sorta like a business," "the student is the customer," "we've gotta have enough customers," "the taxpayers want to see their money well spent." These remarks were made when Mr. Brunson was installed as chairman pro tempore of the Board of Trustees. And he capped them with this non sequitur: "A man ain't learnin nothin when he's talkin." Well, Jack is a man of few words, but the few he uses reveal the little he seems to have learned. Of course, the taxpayers want to see their money well spent. That truism rolls off the tongue of the devotees of management culture like sand running down a rathole.

Last October, Tiny Tim sent a shopping list to Scrooge, listing critical items in no particular order, and asking that five percent of Scrooge's "assets" be transferred to the Tiny Tim, "pursuant to the prior Board of Trustees resolution calling for an annual allocation to be applied to needed projects at the sole discretion of the University Trustees" (Letter from V. Gordon Moulton to Aubrey Green, 10/14/98). This request, worded as it was, was a real no-brainer. It's like the young heir with money in a trust fund set up for his college education going to the bank and demanding a large portion to spend on a Spring lark in Panama City.

People who espouse the virtues of management culture ought to know better. In response to this absurd request, Scrooge has shown a good deal of forbearance by not rejecting Tiny's request outright. The USA Foundation will take up this request at its April 1999 Board meeting. $7.9 million in cash and property was dispersed to the University by the USA Foundation in 1998. If I may be permitted to quote myself: "Foundations are by definition guardians, conservators, and creators of wealth, not wealth for its own sake but for the sake of some worthy endeavor. The University of South Alabama is certainly a worthy endeavor, but the question that looms large in the minds of those who sit on boards of foundations and in the minds of those who manage them is: how best can they serve the worthy endeavor so that the worthy endeavor will continue to exist in perpetuity? This is no easy task in a society that worships the quick fix and the bottom line" (The Harbinger, November 3, 1998). Nor is it an easy task for the USA Foundation to function effectively in relation to some serious needs at USA when the absurdity of the request gives rise to the suspicion that USA's wish list is an attempt to embarrass the Foundation, make it look like a cheap bully. The Mob.Reg. lost no time in putting that spin on it.

I can't help wondering if the USA Administration/Board of Trustees knew quite well that the Foundation would not agree to fund a helter-skelter wish list and that that refusal would provide fodder to feed the attacks dogs at the Mob.Reg. In others, I'm just a tad skeptical about the Board of Trustees's and the administration's desire for an amicable modus operandi with the USA Foundation. Could it not be that they don't want an amicable relationship because their ambitions are aimed lower than a reciprocity which will insure the long-term interest of the university? Could it not be that efforts to discredit the USA Foundation are part and parcel of a calculated strategy to gain control of the Foundation by the Mayer-Mitchell CABAL on the USA Board of Trustees? They have, after all, made repeated efforts to change the composition of the Board of Directors of the USA Foundation, the latest being a motion supported by fishblooded faculty on the Senate to appoint Mr. Moulton to it. That motion was tabled indefinitely. Now why would they want to gain control? There's really no mystery here in this morality play. The CABAL wants control because they want control and because their gaining control means, they think, access to the Foundation's carefully accumulated endowment, five percent of which would give them about $18 million a year. But what evidence do I have that the members of the CABAL are control freaks?

The USA faculty was just treated to the CABAL's addiction to control when it stacked the search committee to replace Dr. Whiddon with trustees and when it ruthlessly threw out due process and appointed Mr. Moulton President. But that's just the nose of the camel protruding from under the tent. Another example of the Administration's ruthless disregard for the welfare of the university took place almost immediately after the installation of Mr. Moulton into the presidency. I mean, of course, the gross raises given to selected administrators. For a university that's supposed to be in bad financial straits, how does that square with reason? How does it square with demands for more money from the Foundation? Give me a break! And what about the relentless efforts of the CABAL and its ally the Alumni Association to get rid of soccer and start up football at USA? How does that square with reason? Are we beginning to see in the initiative to get rid of soccer the first draft of Joe Gottfried's blueprint, his five-year plan to have USA playing Division 1-A football. Yeah, and we'll all eat pie in the sky when we die. But are we dealing with reasonable people at all? They, by their own words, act when their hearts -- that is their desires -- tell them the situation demands they act according to what their hearts desire. The heart is a fine and wonderful thing but not when it's divorced from reason.

Dr. Whiddon, in my humble opinion, is a great deal more prescient about the motives of some members of the Board of Trustees, and a great deal more farsighted about the future of the university than the CABAL trustees who would place the neck and head of the university under the impertinent yoke of management culture. Yoked thus, it won't be long before we're all doing menial labor in the Groves of Academe. It's not Scrooge who needs to undergo a conversion experience; it's Tiny Tim -- he needs more brains, more knowledge, and more understanding of the core values of an academic institution.

-- Tom Brennan

Life Forms by Dan Silver

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