The price ofpoker just went up for Alabama State University, but the big losers this timecould be the students at ASU.
For months, topofficials of ASU have responded to requests for information about allegationsof improprieties by keeping their cards close to their vests, stonewallingrequest after request from the governor for records about trustees and topofficials and their dealings with the university.
So far, thatstrategy has managed to stymie Gov. Robert Bentley and a forensic audit heordered after the former president of ASU said he was forced out of office whenhe tried to look into such matters. If anything, it has made the governor appearineffectual.
But last week theuniversity's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges andSchools, asked ASU officials to provide evidence that trustees and their familymembers don't have a financial interest in the university.
As poker playersmight say after a big bet, "the price of poker just went up" withthat request.
If ASU officialstry the same strategy with SACS that they used with the governor and forensicauditors, it could do as much harm to the university as anything such recordsmight disclose.
And that would beshameful, because the people who would be most hurt by any loss ofaccreditation at ASU would be the students who are currently enrolled there.
A loss ofaccreditation would seriously devalue any degree from ASU, and in some casesmake it more difficult for ASU graduates to find employment in their field ofstudy.
Of course, if ASUofficials are more interested in protecting those in power than in protectingstudents, continuing to try to stonewall might accomplish that. But providingincomplete documentation and alleging racism on the part of the state isn'tlikely to satisfy SACS.
SACS officialsmade that clear in their letter to ASU, stating that "evidence of withholding information, providing inaccurate information,failing to provide timely and accurate information" or similar tactics"will be seen as a lack of full commitment to integrity."
When ASUofficials filed a lawsuit in Californiaagainst the firm conducting the forensic audit of the university, they playedthe race card by claiming that it "has been judicially determinedthat ASU has long been the victim of engrained and widespread racialdiscrimination by the State of Alabama and its governor."
Butthat conveniently ignores the fact that this entire investigation was set inmotion by ASU's own former president, who claimed that he was ousted afterquestioning contracts and other issues.
IfASU officials have the best interests of students and the university at heart,they will comply fully and promptly with the SACS request. And if they believein the public's right to know how its business is being conducted, they willmake all of that information public as well.
Itshould never be forgotten that virtually all of the information requested by thegovernor and by SACS involves public records to which any Alabamian should haveaccess.
Alabamataxpayers should hope that state and federal prosecutors are following thiscontroversy closely as well, and that subpoenas will soon be on their way torequire these records to be provided to investigators.
Butin the meantime, the SACS request is too crucial for ASU officials to play thesame sort of games they played with Bentley's requests. ASU officials owe it tothe students at the university to comply fully and immediately to SACS.
Ken Hare was a longtimeAlabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes aregular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at email@example.com.
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