Wade on Birmingham

The $1 billion question: Can UAB afford to keep Watts as president?


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Alumni upset over UAB’s decision to drop football
have responded on donation request cards.

In college, I had to make cold calls to alumni to solicit donations. They weren’t just any alumni, and it wasn’t for just any gigantic endowment fund.

I played in marching band every year, and it costs thousands of dollars to maintain uniforms, rent buses and buy and repair instruments. I called “bandies” to catch them up on recent shows, but more importantly, hit them up for cash.

I have a soft spot for those tasked with fund-raising for their schools and causes. It’s not an easy job.
Campaign for UAB

The most recent posted update for the Campaign for UAB

One Birmingham institution is in the middle — nearly dead center — of its $1 billion drive, the Campaign for UAB. As of Oct. 31, it had raised $534 million. It may be closer to the end than anyone knows.

The events of the last couple of months have changed the momentum:

  • Nov. 29: The football team wins its final season game, making it bowl eligible for the first time in 10 years. Bill Clark would later be named Conference USA Coach of the Year.
  • Dec. 2: President Ray Watts announces he is dropping the football, rifle and bowling teams.
  • Last week: Graduate Student Government passes resolution of no confidence in Watts.
  • Friday: Watts speaks publicly for the first time since Dec. 2, announcing an independent review of the numbers that led to his decision.
  • Tuesday: Undergraduate Student Government Association passes resolution of no confidence in Watts.
  • This morning: Faculty Senate passes resolution of no confidence in Watts.

Video: Susan Key explains the Faculty Senate vote.

Following the Senate vote, Susan Key of the Collat School of Business told a reporter, “It’s the first ‘no confidence’ vote in Alabama that I’ve ever heard of. … You really can’t lead if you don’t have any followers behind you.”

It’s telling that the faculty’s no confidence resolution barely mentions football or athletics at all; their dispute is over a lack of shared governance during Watts’ 22 months in office. His round of secret, closed door meetings with segments of the university appear to have had little effect, except to illuminate his discomfort with transparency.

Off campus, a number of cities including Birmingham proper have passed their own resolutions supporting UAB football.

Video: overview of today’s no confidence vote from UAB faculty

Ray WattsWatts said in a statement, written and video, that he would continue to work hard as president to regain trust and build consensus. The UA board of trustees, his employer, has also said it would continue to support him.

It’s clear that the Free UAB movement has built a coalition of students, employees, alumni, fans and donors that has real clout. In 6 weeks, it has gained widespread support on campus and appears to move quickly, even as the administration response has seemed almost glacially slow.

But the resolutions are symbolic, and it’s unclear whether recent similar votes of no confidence at other campuses nationwide have had any effect.

The $1 billion question is how it will impact fund-raising, and to a lesser extent, enrollment. It may take years to determine if students are staying away in droves from UAB, but only months to see if donations dry up.

The Campaign for UAB, launched in October 2013, is intended for research, economic development, faculty recruitment and construction. Disappearing dollars will not only hurt the school but also the city.

The good news is that the campaign reached the halfway point in under a year, with the original end date of 2018. The bad news is the school could extend the deadline to 2118 and still not raise the other $500 million.

UAB expects to raise $35 million from faculty and staff. If we assume that half has been raised, it’s likely they can kiss the other $17.5 million goodbye.

UAB expects a drop in support because of the announcement, based on findings in the increasingly flimsy CarrSports report. One Birmingham business owner has already canceled his $1 million commitment based on the football decision.

The alumni in Free UAB have been vocal about their commitment not to donate until Watts is removed from office and football is restored. They have posted numerous photos of pledge cards with large handwritten cries of “Not another dime” and “Fire Ray Watts” (shown above).

UAB and the UA board of trustees must decide whose numbers matter more, before they become dire.

Johnny Johns, best known as CEO of Protective Life, has a dual role as UA trustee and co-chair of the Campaign for UAB. He can either back up his hatchet man Watts or he can attempt to rescue the $500 million in future donations, but he can’t do both.

I know from firsthand experience the challenges of raising thousands of dollars for nonprofit organizations. I learned a lot from manning the phones back in my college days, especially about how institutional reputation could make or break my pitch long before I opened my mouth.

Let’s see the month-to-month numbers behind the giving in the Campaign for UAB. They can paint a picture far more vivid than the hollow repeated promises of a puppet president.

Watts costs $2,338.26 a day in salary. But keeping him could cost UAB and Birmingham thousands, maybe millions, of dollars in the long run.

2 Yips for “The $1 billion question: Can UAB afford to keep Watts as president?”

  1. Wade on Birmingham – re Campaign for UAB | Become a Certified Self-Esteem Coach for Children
    Thursday, January 15, 2015, 10:06 pm

    […] http://wadeonbirmingham.com/2015/01/15/t…ent-video/ […]

  2. Wade on Birmingham » #sundayread for Jan. 18, 2015
    Sunday, January 18, 2015, 4:35 am

    […] The $1 billion question: Can UAB afford to keep Watts as president? […]

Leave a Yip

Subscribe without commenting