In our previous segments, we focused on misuse of public funds by former University of Tennessee president John Shumaker and UAB president Carol Garrison. The scandal, with Garrison near its center, resulted in Shumaker’s resignation.
A close review of published reports about the episode shows that it involved more than just poor judgment on the part of two highly compensated university administrators. A significant amount of deceit was involved in trying to cover up the improper behavior.
A ranking trustee at the University of Tennessee said Shumaker had “misled” her and other officials about his extensive travels, including his numerous trips to Birmingham to see Garrison. The Associated Press reported:
“He assured me everything was appropriate, that there was nothing wrong,” said Johnnie Amonette of Memphis, who chairs the UT trustees’ executive committee.
Asked if she felt betrayed, Amonette said, “Let’s just say, misled.”
What form did the deceit take? Here’s more from the AP, with a heavy emphasis on Birmingham and Garrison:
On July 2, Amonette issued a statement saying her committee was “fully aware of and approved his (Shumaker’s) extensive travel, including the trips to Birmingham.”
The statement was in response to reports that Shumaker used the UT plane to visit friend and former Louisville colleague Carol Garrison, now president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Amonette said she was asked to read a similar statement endorsing Shumaker’s travels during a June board meeting in Memphis, but declined until she could meet with Shumaker.
In a personal meeting, Shumaker gave the trustees a “verbal update” about the flights, the reasons for them and told “everything was done exactly as it should be done.” But the trustees never saw any paperwork, she said.
“I should not have released the statement,” Amonette said Thursday, “. . . and I am sorry about that.”
Shumaker would later reimburse UT $34,747.71 for personal expenses, most of it for personal flights, including trips to Birmingham.
Testimony before a state legislative committee, after Shumaker’s resignation, revealed much more about his deception involving Garrison. From an AP report on August 21, 2003:
Cathy Cole, Shumaker’s chief of staff, said her boss told her about his relationship with Garrison last fall. She told him she was concerned about his use of the state plane to travel to Birmingham, Ala.
“I commented to him that there was one thing a president can count on–an audit of travel,” she said.
Perhaps with that in mind, Shumaker tried to cover his tracks. But his actions did not slip past UT auditor Mark Paganelli:
In addition, auditors found a personal electronic calendar in Shumaker’s office had been altered, with trips to Little Rock, Ark., and Birmingham deleted.
“Information had been changed, removed,” Paganelli said, noting that the calendar was turned over to the state comptroller’s office, which is conducting its own audit.
That information hit home with committee members:
Committee co-chairman Sen. Jerry Cooper, D-Morrison, called the calendar a “smoking gun.”
“After what I heard today, I’d say there’s a real good chance he was trying to cover something up,” he said.
The attempted cover up didn’t end there. It extended to a conference in San Antonio, where Shumaker and Garrison shared a hotel room for three days:
Former University of Tennessee President John Shumaker initially lied to auditors about spending three nights in a hotel room with a former colleague, an auditor told lawmakers Thursday.
UT auditor Mark Paganelli told the Fiscal Review Committee that Shumaker tried to conceal his relationship to University of Alabama-Birmingham President Carol Garrison when auditors asked him about a San Antonio, Texas, hotel receipt. . . .
Auditors caught on to the lie when questioning a receipt they found in Garrison’s name, Paganelli said. The first two nights of their stay was paid by UT, while the third was billed to UAB at a rate $120 less than the previous two.
While Shumaker lost his job at UT, Garrison remains employed as UAB’s president. But I’ve seen no indication that she ever has faced serious questions about her role in the scandal. A few obvious questions come to mind:
* Were you aware that John Shumaker was altering his personal calendar in an effort to conceal his trips to see you? Did you alter any of your records?
* What role did you play in the mix up about the hotel receipts?
* Were any UAB resources used in furthering your personal relationship with John Shumaker? For example, did he spend nights at the Woodward House, the UAB presidential residence? Was UAB reimbursed for expenses that were strictly personal in nature?
Throughout her presidency, Carol Garrison has shown a tendency to release “official statements” about various events but has rarely consented to interviews. Given the many questions an inquiring reporter might want to ask about the Shumaker scandal, it’s easy to understand why she stays out of the spotlight.
Even when releasing one “statement” about her relationship with Shumaker, Garrison appears to have been deceitful. The statement was released to Associated Press:
In a statement Thursday, Garrison acknowledged a relationship with Shumaker and said UAB paid for her hotel room because she was there on official business that had been approved by the chancellor.
“My relationship with John Shumaker at the University of Louisville was professional. Our relationship now is personal, and has been no secret, as he has attended a number of Birmingham and UAB events,” Garrison said.
Garrison says she was in San Antonio in December 2002 on official business “that had been approved by the chancellor.” Let’s take a closer look at that statement.
I worked at UAB for 19 years, so I have a little knowledge about how the university conducts its travel business. First of all, the volume of travel by UAB faculty and staff members is heavy. It is so heavy that at one time UAB had its own on-campus travel agency.
Amidst all of that travel, Garrison is saying that the chancellor of the UA System singled out her trip for his personal approval. This statement is more than a little hard to believe.
There seems to be nothing remarkable about the San Antonio conference. It was the annual meeting of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools on December 7-10, 2002. That sounds like the kind of event that both Shumaker and Garrison would have legitimate reasons for attending.
So why the strange statement about the chancellor approving the trip?
I have two guesses:
* Garrison’s involvement in the Shoemaker scandal, so soon after she had arrived at UAB, was becoming a “hot potato” and had put her job at risk. Facing a probable lawsuit at the time from UAB’s first female president (W. Ann Reynolds), UA wanted to do everything possible to avoid dumping its second female president. Malcolm Portera, the chancellor at the time, reportedly had been a strong Garrison supporter, and he probably wanted to take the spotlight off her and put it on him.
* If a reporter somehow did start asking serious questions–a great unlikelihood in Alabama–this statement established Portera as the go-to guy and took Garrison out of an increasingly warm spotlight. My guess is that Portera was prepared to perform a little public-relations “soft shoe” to take the heat off the UAB president.
But the statement raises a few obvious questions, ones that I’ve never seen asked in the mainstream press: How many times did Portera, or any other UA chancellor, personally approve a trip by the UAB president? Is that the way business usually is conducted in the UA System? Did Garrison take any notes at the conference, make any presentations, return with any pertinent material? How has UAB benefitted from her attendance at the San Antonio conference?
Here’s an even better question: Is there any reason that taxpayers should believe a word Carol Garrison says? Taxpayers foot the bill for most of UAB’s activities, but Garrison doesn’t appear to think much about her obligations to everyday folks.
At times during the Shumaker/Garrison scandal, the level of deceit reached comic proportions. A classic example, along with lots of other interesting information, comes from a report on Shumaker’s activities by John G. Morgan, comptroller of the treasury for the State of Tennessee.
One section of the 110-page report deals with a trip to Birmingham on April 15, 2003, for what was supposed to be a “business” trip. It seems Shumaker had a little trouble explaining details about the “business” part of his trip:
The flight logs showed that on April 15, 2003, the UT plane flew Dr. Shumaker and Dr. Cole from Knoxville to Nashville and dropped off Dr. Cole in Nashville. Dr. Shumaker continued on the UT plane to Birmingham on April 15. According to the flight logs, the UT plane remained in Birmingham overnight and returned Dr. Shumaker to Nashville and then to Knoxville, all on April 16.
According to Dr. Shumaker, he made the trip to Birmingham to attend a dinner at Dr. Garrison’s residence. Dr. Shumaker stated that Dr. Garrison had indicated that one of her invitees to dinner was a UAB faculty member with whom Dr. Shumaker had expressed interest with regard to this individual contracting with UT. Dr. Shumaker indicated that his trip was business-related in that he was able to converse with this UAB faculty member. However, when asked for the name of the UAB faculty member, Dr. Shumaker declined to provide the individual’s name.
Yep, Carol Garrison had supposedly set up a meeting between Shumaker and a UAB faculty member. But when asked to provide the faculty member’s name, Shumaker couldn’t do it.
Oh what a tangled web we weave. And I have firsthand experience with the kind of tangled webs Carol Garrison still is weaving at UAB. In fact, people who have become active participants in Garrison’s corrupt enterprise helped cheat me out of my job. And I would not be surprised if Garrison was directing the whole charade.
Much more on that coming up. Previously in the series: