- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


July 22

The Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, on concerns surrounding Alabama State University:

Conflict of interest is not a difficult concept to grasp. Webster’s puts it plainly: “A conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.”

Nevertheless, the issue has been problematic for some members of the Alabama State University board of trustees and has been cited in a warning report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, ASU’s accrediting agency. Now Gov. Robert Bentley has asked for the resignations of trustees Eltion Dean and Marvin Wiggins, both cited by SACS.

Aside from the concerns they raise with SACS, conflicts of interest also undermine public confidence in the operational integrity of the institution.

A letter from SACS notes multiple areas of concern at ASU, all of them troubling for the taxpayers whose money supports this public university. However, the conflicts of interest - and the response to them - go to the very core of responsible leadership.

The SACS letter cites a violation of standards by Wiggins, who has not been “free of familial financial interest in the institution.” His wife, mother-in-law and other family members collected thousands in payments from ASU for a summer camp they operated. He said the amounts were small and he did not know about all the contracts.

Wiggins just doesn’t get it or, considering that he is a lawyer and a judge, perhaps chooses not to get it. As SACS bluntly noted, “Both arguments are irrelevant” and Wiggins “has a familial conflict of interest.”

He’s not alone. As SACS pointed out, relatives of Dean operated a business paid by ASU in violation of the agency’s standards. In addition, Dean did not disclose this situation on his conflict of interest form or on the Statement of Economic Interest that Alabama’s ethics law requires public officials to file each year.

A former trustee, Larry Lemak, did not disclose the direct financial benefit his company and relatives received through the university.

There’s no defending any of this. The conflict of interest rules are clear in every area, from the SACS standards to the state ethics law to the university’s own conflict of interest policy. That policy appears to lack “consistent implementation,” the SACS letter states, and some information in trustees’ disclosure statements contained inaccuracies. That is inexcusable.

ASU has plenty to address with SACS in the coming months. A “first monitoring report” is due Sept. 16 and a SACS team will conduct an on-campus review Oct. 17-19.

Straightforward leadership from the trustees will be a critical component in addressing all the points of concern. A board - minus Dean and Wiggins - that has committed itself, in both word and deed, to scrupulous ethical conduct with no hint of conflict of interest among its members will be in a far better position to provide it.




July 22

The Tuscaloosa News, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Nick Saban and Alabama football:

Back in December 2006, when a few well-informed Alabama fans began floating the name of Nick Saban as the University of Alabama’s possible next coach, the suggestion was greeted without howls of derision.

Alabama fans were delusional. Alabama football is old news - dead in the water. Why would anybody leave the NFL for a college job? Alabama fans are impossible to please; who wants to deal with that?

Of course, being wrong rarely costs the sports talking heads their jobs. Most of them still are employed even though Saban came to Alabama and proved just about everybody wrong.

Once he accepted the job and arrived in Tuscaloosa to an adoring throng, the doubters quickly switched stories. Saban might have come but he wasn’t going to stay. Most of the predictions seemed to come from those he had jilted before and those who would benefit most from his departure. Predicting Saban’s imminent departure has become an annual event.

Most said he wouldn’t stay because he couldn’t succeed, at least not to the overwrought expectations of Alabama alumni and fans. They couldn’t be made happy with anything less than the second coming of “The Bear.”

Coach Paul W. “Bear” Bryant is still peacefully in his grave as best we know. And yet, Alabama fans seem remarkably content with their head coach. How could that be?

Despite the fact that reports of Saban’s departure have never panned out, the speculation remains, even after the narrative has lost its power. Entering his eighth season at Alabama with two SEC titles and three national championships under his belt, Saban has now stayed in Tuscaloosa longer than anyone who has coached the Crimson Tide in the 30-plus years since Bryant ended his 25-year reign at the Capstone.

In other words, Saban’s eventual departure - yes, he will eventually leave - will likely be met with mourning and sorrow. But there won’t be many Alabama fans who would treat it as a betrayal. The coach we’d never be able to hire, the one that would leave us all too soon, has already done enough and won enough and stayed long enough that most fans would shake his hand and wish him well.

Why has Saban stayed here longer than he stayed at Toledo, longer than he stayed at Michigan State, longer than he stayed at LSU and longer than he stayed in Miami? We’d like to think it’s because the University of Alabama is a little bit more special than those places.

If recent reports are true, it is special enough that the University of Texas’s rich tradition and $100 million wasn’t enough to lure him away. Can you imagine how hard they’d have laughed in December 2006 if Alabama fans had boldly predicted that Saban would be here eight years from now and he’d turn down $100 million from one of the five great football powers to stay?

Who’s laughing now?




July 22

The Opelika-Auburn News, Opelika, Alabama, on sexual assault crimes:

It’s difficult if not impossible to determine the number of sexual assault victims in our nation, our state and even Lee County. However, there are troubling trends which show an increase.

In March, Al.com reported that the number of sexual assault cases documented on statewide college campuses increased 9 percent between 2010 and 2011, the latest year that data was available. Between 2008 and 2011, the increase was 53 percent.

Vickie Dearing of Rape Counselors of East Alabama told us last week that the number of rapes and sexual assault crimes in East Alabama has increased considerably in recent years. She specifically mentioned an increase in cases where there are three or more perpetrators.

“That’s just a concern - that this is happening in our society,” Dearing said.

Just three days ago, Auburn University released information on a reported assault that occurred last weekend. The victim believes she may have been given a date-rape drug by an unknown perpetrator prior to the assault.

Auburn University released the following reminders to students on Sunday, though they’re good reminders for anybody:

- Anyone with knowledge of any sexual assault is strongly encouraged to immediately report it to law enforcement. If it’s an emergency, call 9-1-1;

- Sexual assault and giving someone a drug without their knowledge or permission are both felonies;

- Individuals should pay close attention to their food and drink intake at parties or events. Do not leave food/drinks unattended or accept food/drinks from unknown individuals;

- Someone who is passed out, unconscious or incapacitated because of drugs, alcohol, or any other reason is unable to give consent. Forcing sexual contact on another person without consent is against the law. Being drunk does not mean a person is asking to have sex or be raped; and

- All individuals are potential rape victims, regardless of age, race, class, religion, occupation, sexual orientation, gender identity, educational background, or physical description. Both males and females can be rape victims. Rape is never the victim’s fault.

There is help available for victims and their families. Rape Counselors of East Alabama serves all residents while Safe Harbor serves Auburn University. Area law enforcement can also link victims to assistance.

The victims of sexual crimes are not just numbers. They’re often neighbors, friends and even family. Fortunately, there are good local people willing to help as needed.



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