Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Alabama: I love my state, and despise her corrupt officials.

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Wednesday, March 7, 2012

This entry starts out in a wee bit different tenor, then points directly at the problem.

Read on to see what I mean.

Not many folks may recall Alabama‘s state song, which lyric reads, “Alabama, Alabama, I will aye be true to thee. From thy Southern shore where groweth, by the sea the orange tree.”

As a kid, I kinda’ thought it was weird when I heard it and sang it, and as an adult today, I still think it’s weird. I don’t even like the music. It sucks, too. No, Alabama couldn’t have a good state song like Georgia, whose state song is “Georgia On My Mind.” About the closest that Alabamians have come to a really cool state song is our unofficial adoption of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Southern Rock anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Here’s a live performance by the original Lynyrd Skynyrd group – pre-airplane crash, including Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines & Cassie Gaines – performing Sweet Home Alabama.

No, some weenie folks picked “Stars Fell on Alabama,” as an alternate state song. Well, while it’s not a bad song, per se, it’s never really been popular. It’s not that there’s never been a really good arrangement or performance of the official state song, but it’s never really been popular. A YouTube-based search turns up several outstanding performances of the state song by numerous groups, ranging from church choirs, grade-school children and men’s chorales. But even as polished as many of them are, from a musical perspective, they’re still stuck trying to make a silk purse out of the proverbial sow’s ear.

Here’s one which I think is perhaps among the better ones. “Subject to Change,” which is the University of Alabama men’s a capella (without musical instruments) chorale in Tuscaloosa, perform their rendition of the state song.

Here are jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong performing the traditional tune “Stars Fell On Alabama.”

And then, the country-pop supergroup Alabama wrote a song called “My Home’s in Alabama,” which was among their greatest hits, and which spoke of their travel as musicians, life experiences and love for the state they call home.

While searching for an example to share, I came across this song also entitled “Stars Fell On Alabama,” though it is not the same song. Performed by Tara Nevins, a musician whose style is described as “American roots traditionalist,” it’s lyrics speak to precisely the kind of trouble and corruption that continues to plague Alabama.

Two-year chancellor’s job on the line at Board of Education meeting

Published: Wednesday, March 07, 2012, 8:30 AM
Freida Hill is the chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system.

Freida Hill is the chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system.

The state Board of Education today will decide the continued employment of two-year college Chancellor Freida Hill, with a majority of members saying her two years at the helm should come to an end.

The board meets at 2 p.m. to discuss Hill’s future, which has looked anything but promising the last few weeks.

In a recent evaluation, several board members criticized Hill’s leadership style, saying she doesn’t communicate well with the board or the media, focuses too much on workforce development and not enough on academia, and has a fractured relationship with K-12 education.

Five members — Charles Elliott, Stephanie Bell, Betty Peters, Ella Bell and Yvette Richardson — have said either that they supported firing Hill or that they didn’t see how she could continue to lead the system.

Since then, board members have been mum on what, exactly, went wrong.

But former Chancellor Bradley Byrne, who took over after a tumultuous run of corruption and cronyism under a previous chancellor, Roy Johnson, said it boils down to some of the same issues that led to the two-year college system scandal that broke in 2006.

“The central problem I saw when I took over the two-year system is that the presidents were running the system and the chancellor didn’t have any oversight,” he said. “There has to be strong oversight, but there are presidents who don’t want that. And there are some presidents now who want to take it back to that old system.”

The far-reaching scandal of bribery and cronyism led to 18 people being charged in federal court in connection with the case, including Johnson, who is serving 6½ years in prison. Among the others convicted were a college president, the head of the Alabama Fire College and three state legislators who had ties to the system.

When Byrne was appointed chancellor in 2007, he forced out half the college presidents and the majority of vice chancellors. He also pushed through the state Board of Education several policies and regulations that forced community college employees to choose between working in the system and serving in the Legislature, essentially ending the so-called practice of “double-dipping.”

“We did have a pretty good house cleaning, but not all of them are gone,” Byrne said. “Now, are there some issues between the chancellor and some board members? Obviously there are. But the backdrop of this clearly is that presidents want to retake control of the system.”

Hill, who was hired in December 2009 after working as deputy commissioner of Georgia’s technical college system, is under contract until Nov. 30.

Hill on Tuesday declined comment on the advice of her lawyer.

Board issues

Specific issues between Hill and the board vary among board members, who have crossed party lines to get rid of Hill. Republicans Stephanie Bell, Peters and Elliott are aligned with Democrats Ella Bell and Richardson.

Among the problems the Democratic board members point to is a lack of diversity among staff. Hill fired former general counsel Joan Davis, who served a short time as interim chancellor after Byrne resigned to focus on his run for governor. Davis, who was black, was replaced by Lynne Thrower, who is white. She had worked in the legal department and was moved up after Davis left.

In another case, a black president who resigned at J.F. Ingram State Technical College in Montgomery was replaced by an interim president who is white.

Peters said problems with a land purchase deal for Calhoun Community College in Huntsville are part of her beef with Hill.

The state board in September voted down a proposed $3.8 million land purchase for a second Calhoun campus to ease crowding on the Wynn Drive campus. Among other things, board members said they were afraid it would hurt J.F. Drake State Technical College in Huntsville and Madison County. Drake is seeking accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which would allow it to become a full-fledged community college.

Peters told The Birmingham News recently that the way Hill conducted herself with the media on the Calhoun situation was unacceptable.

Peters said students at Calhoun were allowed to demonstrate and even encouraged to do so.

“The TV shots of the ruckus at Calhoun were embarrassing, and I was offended that students were encouraged to protest by college employees,” Peters wrote in her evaluation of Hill.

Elliott said he, too, sees a lack of leadership from Hill. Recently, Elliott said that Hill allowed a school board member to berate college presidents behind closed doors. Hill left the room, he said, and allowed the board member to scold the presidents for not liking Hill.

“That’s inexcusable,” he said. “That is a level of unprofessionalism I’ve never heard of … and it shows an inability to lead on a grand scale.”

Training vs. academics

The issue of job training vs. traditional academic programs is one that two-year college systems around the country are grappling with.

Hill was recruited to Alabama from Georgia for her experience dealing with workforce development. Former Gov. Bob Riley and current Gov. Robert Bentley have stressed worker training programs as vital to the state’s economic well-being.

Gregory Fitch, director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, said there has to be a balance between the two. Hill seems to have balanced them well, he said.

Without an emphasis on workforce development, Alabama wouldn’t grow and prosper in manufacturing jobs, he said.

“Without strong work-force development, would we be able to court businesses to come to rural areas? Would we have Mercedes and Hyundai here without workforce development?” Fitch said.

Byrne said that when he became chancellor, that issue was an afterthought.

“When I came into the mix, (the system) was heavily against workforce development. They wanted to turn the two-year colleges into mini four-year colleges. They didn’t like anything to do with workforce development or adult education. They thought it was beneath them.

“The easier thing to do is academics, but without any doubt, it’s critical to the state that we have a strong technical and workforce development program,” he said.

Hill is the sixth person to lead Alabama’s two-year college network since it was hit with the corruption scandal in 2006. Fitch said the turnover in that seat could hurt the system.

“I’ve seen people come and go in that position since I came here 5½ years ago,” he said. “It’s difficult to recover from something like that, especially when it was so widespread. Unfortunately, people remember the negative — that’s why continuity is so important in that role.”

Email Marie Leech at mleech@bhamnews.com.


This article appears here: blog.al.com/spotnews/2012/03/two-year_chancellors_job_on_th.html

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