Alabama State University would see $10.8 million in state funding cut under an Education Trust Fund budget proposal approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.
The cut — nearly 91 percent of all higher education cuts in the ETF proposal — would be accompanied by a $10 million first conditional funding grant; Gov. Robert Bentley would be responsible for deciding if that money was released. The proposed cut amounts to about 26 percent of the school’s 2014 funding.
The proposal brought strong opposition from Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at the university, who accused Republican lawmakers of seeking leverage over ASU as an investigation into allegations of fraud and waste at the university moves forward.
“You put in jeopardy the future of the university when accrediting agencies see things like that,” Knight said Wednesday afternoon. “They begin to question things like that. That is very unfortunate. They would not want to be doing that to Alabama, Auburn, South Alabama or any one like that.”
Senate Finance and Taxation Education chairman Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, said he had spoken with ASU president Gwendolyn Boyd about the proposal, which he called a way of “helping the new president.”
“She understands there are going to have to be changes,” Pittman said. “There’s going to have to be accountability at the school. To that extent, she understands she needs to make them and get the board to enact the things she wants to do.”
Bentley’s budget, submitted to Legislature on Jan. 15, did not include the cut and would have effectively level-funded ASU. The governor said Wednesday afternoon that the committee’s move “was not of my doing.”
“I don’t think we should use money like that for leverage against the university,” Bentley said. “We’re making progress. Dr. Boyd is doing a fantastic job.”
Pittman said the budget move was “totally my idea.”
“If you look at history of the budget chairs, we engage in issues that are policy issues,” he said.
Boyd was not available for comment Wednesday. Knight said he had “no reason to believe Dr. Boyd agreed to this at all.” Pittman described Boyd’s reaction as “OK.”
“I think she understood it, and I interpreted that as OK,” Pittman said.
Alabama State University is currently undergoing a forensic audit over allegations made by former ASU president Joseph Silver over fraud and mismanagement at the school. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional accrediting organization for institutes of higher education, launched an inquiry into ASU’s accreditation late last year.
Boyd told the Advertiser this week that she was reviewing a preliminary report issued in October on the school’s finances, and said in terms of organization, “everything is on the table.”
Bentley said Wednesday that Boyd was “doing a fantastic job.”
“I’m very proud of her,” the governor said. “We have a good board in place. The university is making tremendous progress, and I believe we need to fully fund the university.”
Knight said the proposed cuts could lead to further challenges to the university’s accreditation, and force cutbacks to university programs and potential layoffs of school employees.
“It gives leverage, it violates every rule as it relates to SACS, and it creates interference by the Governor and the Legislature in the day-to-day operation of the university,” Knight said.
Knight added that court challenges to the move are possible should the budget win approval with the cuts intact.
The Senate could take up the Education Trust Fund budget on Thursday.
– posted by Brian Lyman