The people's voice of reason

The Auburn Greed

Every year another batch of young souls descend upon Auburn University embarking upon a four year (oft a five or six year) mission to better themselves in hopes of one day being heralded as “an Auburn man.” Better still, they might someday achieve the status recently bestowed upon Jay Jacobs as being “an Auburn man through and through.” They’re told to believe being an Auburn man is encapsulated by the Auburn Creed, penned nearly seventy-five years ago by *George Petrie. Some may recall the Alabama Gazette posted this Creed in the text of my November 2015 column [

2015/11/01/news/all-the-speakers-men-and-the-collapse-of-au-athletics/597.html] on the decay of AU Athletics. Petrie held various positions at Auburn, including Professor of History and Latin, Department Chair, and Dean of the Graduate School. Petrie organized and coached Auburn's first football team in 1892. Hard to imagine anyone more apropos to capture the Spirit of his day in the famous preamble to this noble declaration:

“I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.”

George Petrie knew Auburn in a different era and mercifully never lived to see the modern incarnation of his beloved university. He never had to experience Auburn under the tyranny of miscreants such as Bobby (FDIC failure) Lowder, Ed (the micromanager) Richardson, Mike (a.k.a. Felon) Hubbard, and most notable of late, Jay Jacobs to name a select few ‘public servants’ who

illustrate the current Auburn spirit. If George Petrie were alive today instead of 1943, he may pen far darker prose. Rather than the Auburn Creed, it could be more aptly titled, the Auburn Greed. The opening might read something like:

“I believe that this is a corrupt world and that I can count only on what I steal. Therefore, I believe in theft, grand theft.”

Last fall, Auburn faithful were greeted to the joyous and long overdue news Jay Jacobs would finally be stepping down as Athletics Director. After six years of gross incompetence and scandal, delayed justice may be allowed. At long last undeserved largess would stop flowing to AD Jacobs, or would it? Shortly before Christmas, the Decatur Daily broke the news Jacobs will be receiving $500,000+ per year from the Retirement System of Alabama [RSA]. Putting it in a way even Sonny Galloway can understand, Jacobs will be receiving more than five million dimes per year. A RSA official was quoted as saying this would be the largest annual retirement benefit in Alabama history.

Many were quick to point a finger at our poorly designed retirement system for this outrageous result. While undoubtedly true numerous problems are embedded in the RSA’s design, AU corruption also contributed significantly to Jacob’s massive retirement check. “Grandfathered” employees who joined the retirement system prior to recent reforms generally have their retirement benefit calculated using the three highest years of salary during their last decade of employment. This allows corrupt State agencies/organisations such as AU to artificially inflate the final years of income to grease an individual’s retirement result. The university only bears the expense for a couple years, while generating a lifetime annuity for the individual at the expense of our State taxpayers. This is a very cost effective way for AU to grease away a “good Auburn man.”

Examination of Jay Jacobs public payroll records display a noticeable/outlier permanent raise of over $50,000 (or 500,000 dimes) for Fall of 2015. Furthermore this appears to be the largest dollar merit raise in the entire university that year. Timing of this massive raise hardly appears random. Indeed, two major scandals directly involving Jacobs had appeared in the Wall Street Journal (one of the most prestigious national newspapers) the preceding year. First the infamous “ticketgate” episode where individuals with interesting ties to Jacobs were found to be receiving large numbers of tickets to high-demand games such as the 2013 Iron Bowl. Second was the stunning revelation on the front page (above the fold) of the WSJ Sports section reporting athletics officials had directly interfered with curricular governance processes at AU. The article revealed Auburn Athletics had gone so far as to offer an institutional bribe to the chair of a curriculum committee to support illegitimate continuance of a troubled program stacked with the most important athletes.

These outrageous scandals reverberating throughout the Sports news world, combined with disappointing performances on the field and disastrous coaching hires would’ve been more than enough to justify termination of an AD at any respectable university. Instead, Jacobs received a massive raise; a raise which would continue to pay dividends throughout the remainder of his existence, courtesy of our retirement system. George Petrie’s AU could not imagine something like this, but our modern AU of Hubbard, Lowder, et al ‘public servants’ was shameless in the relentless commitment to corruption of this sort.

This commitment was certainly not limited to Jay Jacobs’ benefit. Indeed there are numerous other good “Auburn men” who received ‘trumped up’ going-away presents courtesy of AU corruption and our State retirement system.

Consider the case of Jacobs’ ever-loyal lieutenant, Assoc. AD in charge of academics for athletes, the similarly notorious Dr. Gary Waters. The WSJ article bares the fact Waters was Jacobs’ point-man in the Public Administration scandal. Specifically, it was Dr. Waters who communicated (in writing) the institutional bribe to the chair of the academic program review committee and then instructed her to conceal from committee members the source of the funds was the athletics department. While this scandal was nationally exposed in August of 2015, it was first exposed internally in February of 2014 by Professor Michael Stern, the brave and vocal faculty senator from Economics. Behind the scenes emails from this period show Dr. Waters admitting athletics had stacked [a.k.a. clustered] so many athletes into the troubled Public Administration program, athletes were approaching 50% of the entire program. A program every faculty committee, an external review team, and every relevant administrator had agreed to close. At least until athletics officials put the heat on and showed up dangling the proverbial bag of cash.

Stacking under-privileged (oft African American) young men the university is exploiting via athletics into academic programs slated for closure is the sort of conduct good “Auburn men” do in the Lowder/Hubbard era of Auburn University. Dare I type others would go so far as to tout Dr. Gary Waters is such a good “Auburn man” he even bleeds orange and blue? If history is any guide, these sort of scandalous revelations would warrant a very special raise. Indeed, Dr. Waters would receive a $24,000 (240,000 dimes) merit raise between the 2014 and 2015 budget year. This raise was quite extraordinary as it amounted to 13% even though merit raises that year were capped at 8% without special approval. Senator Stern confronted AU President Jay Gogue w.r.t. this raise at the November 2015 university faculty senate meeting. The President admitted in front of the senate he’d never seen/approved any special raise in athletics: “Not aware of it. I don’t think we approved anybody over 8% since I’ve been here.”

Professor Stern pressed for an explanation of the clear policy violation - i.e., no memo existed and no special approval had been granted. Dr. Donald Large, Executive Vice President, took to the microphone and explained what he discovered on this ‘extra special’ raise. Dr. Large explained the “5% extra was a car allowance that was allocated to him, but instead of it going in the normal car allowance category which would not have shown up in salary, would not have gone into the retirement system,” the answer was “quite frankly he’s looking at retirement in the next year or less and they wanted to put it in the salary.” For those unaware of the implications, business expenses (car travel) were added to his income to artificially increase his retirement benefit with RSA. Think: Grand Theft Auto allowance… Most disturbing was the individual reporting this potential RSA fraud to the senate was ‘public servant’ Dr. Donald Large who is in fact on the board of trustees of the teachers retirement system. Even President Gogue was forced to immediately declare the raise was “not appropriate.” Yet nothing happened to reverse the outrageous, wrongfully accomplished raise, Dr. Waters did not retire until 2017, and he continued to receive further raises on top of this illegitimate raise as merit raises and bonuses are conducted as percentages of current salary.

In order to put the special retirement-enhancing raises received by Jacobs and Waters type public servants into perspective, let’s draw a comparison with the treatment of the courageous professor who exposed their conduct/raises in the university senate (and in the WSJ) trying to shepherd administrators to proactively address this corruption and avoid continuing on the path of violation(s). Precisely when Jacobs is receiving his massive $50,000 raise (for a job well-done of course) in the fall of 2015, the university decides to award Professor Stern a paltry 1% merit raise - insufficient to even cover inflation. A five-year review conducted by the Provost’s Office Spring of 2016 found Stern an outstanding department chair and many described the report as the most positive they’d ever seen at AU, yet his merit raises were routinely lower than others. George Petrie’s Auburn University would never imagine doing such things, but the AU of Large, Lowder, Hubbard, et al public servants put a high priority on cleansing the institution of dissent.

This is the story of Prof. Petrie’s wholesome, righteous Creed turn to Greed. The fault is not in our stars (academic or athletic) but in ourselves; like weeding the garden, the task is never done. If not a local banker/real estate magnate empowered by unbridled avarice finding a loyal ‘high plains grifter’ from Georgia to pollute the loveliest village on the plains, it would be a similar iteration - only the names and dates would change to record the guilty and lost souls. A reoccurring result we must fault ourselves for allowing and hang our heads in shame when looking to others to do the required ‘dirty work’ to keep our lives clean for ourselves and our posterity. I long for the days of coaches who refused to be paid in excess of their institution’s highest paid professor. It would be all the more refreshing to see a similar constraint on administrators who’ve become more impeders than facilitators as we saddle our students and taxpayers with greater debt. Certain my income would be far greater if I returned to the private sector and discontinued my public service, I wonder how many others could withstand this scrutiny which leads to the more profound question of why they take positions of this sort. Socrates asserted the unexamined life is not worth living - I have no doubt we could reverse the path from greed and return to one driven by our Creed with some serious external and internal examination at AU with the appropriate consequences.

*George Petrie (April 10, 1866 – September 6, 1947) was an American scholar and educator who played a crucial role in the development of Auburn University. From 1887 until his retirement in 1942, Petrie held various positions at Auburn, including professor of history and Latin, head of the History Department, and dean of the Graduate School. Petrie also organized and coached Auburn's first football team in 1892.

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