Haley Townsend - Editor-in-Chief

Following several votes of “no confidence” from the undergraduate student government association (USGA), the graduate student association (GSA), and the Faculty Senate, President Ray L. Watts, M.D. took time out of his busy Thursday to talk with Kscope and announce a possible reorganization of the administration to include a Vice President of Student Affairs, as well as answer student questions from Twitter and USGA.

USGA: We appreciate that Dr. Watts took the time to speak with the Kaleidoscope in an effort to increase transparency and communication.

Kscope: So President Watts, how do you come back from a vote of “no confidence”?

Watts: Well, I think you come back from a vote of “no confidence” by reconnecting and letting actions speak louder than words, and as I have viewed that process it saddens me that the students had the feeling of a lack of confidence, and it means a lot to me and that’s very important, and I want to make sure that I restore that as quickly and positively as possible.

USGA: To his point that actions speak louder than words:
-The announcement of the sweeping decision was made 2 months ago and this is one of the first times that he has made an effort to communicate with the undergraduate student body directly.

-It is true that during finals and the break that he met with USGA members, and I really did appreciate that time and the ability to communicate with him why the student body was extremely concerned. However, I, and the USGA, believe that as President of the entire UAB that Dr. Watts should meet more with the student body in a more wide spread manner because that is real transparency and communication.

Kscope: So how are you planning to restore that communication?

Watts: Well, you know, as I met with our constituents over the last five or six weeks, I’ve heard very loudly that even though I felt, and the leadership felt we were communicating, we weren’t communicating effectively enough, and also I’ve felt, heard and felt that direct communication with me versus via a dean or a department chair or even, you know, Andy Marsch, who does such a great job in Student Life, is important to our students, our faculty, our staff has stepped forward and certainly our alumni, and the community.

So, as we look going forward for the whole UAB Forward initiative, I think putting together a student advisory group or task force to have direct dialogue with myself and not just me [but] our leadership team: Dr. Lucas is our provost, our other key administrators and deans, I want to make sure that we have ongoing dialogue, and we want to have the kind of vibrant student life that our students want. So honestly I do think that we will be in a much stronger position and I think the students will have an even stronger voice. I want to tell you how much I have appreciated hearing from all of our students, undergraduates, our graduate students and our professional students, and from the officers of the various student government associations.

So I want that dialogue to be active and ongoing, and as we have begun to consider, Dr. Lucas has begun to consider, how she might reorganize the provost office, we both and our entire leadership team felt that we ought have a very strong voice for the students at our vice president’s level and so she and I are both very supportive of a vice president for students or student affairs, who would work directly and closely with me, but also very closely with the provost office, and we work together with all of the folks involved at student life to make sure that we’re hearing y’all, and you have the very best student experience possible.

USGA: USGA hopes that the transparency continues to increase in a sincere and honest way.

Kscope: So to clarify, USGA resolution called for the Vice President of Student Affairs, and that’s what you are considering, it’s not going to be the Vice Provost?

Watts: Well, Dr. Lucas had brought to me a potential reorganization of her office and the possibility of a vice provost for student affairs, along with a vice provost for admissions and retention, and Dr. Suzanne Austin is our Vice Provost for academic affairs, and so after hearing from the students and discussions with her, I am very supportive of it being a Vice President instead of a vice provost, and so is she. Now this person will need to work very closely with the provost’s office, but we’re very open to that.

USGA: In response to the search for a VP of Student Affairs:
-It is the USGA’s opinion that recent affairs would suggest a disconnect between the actual feelings, opinions, and voices of UAB’s vast student body and Dr. Watts’ understanding.

As a result, it is very important to the USGA that during this restructuring the consideration and hopefully ultimately a Vice President of Student Affairs is utilized. This way Dr. Watts will have a more direct line of access to a representative of the student body because this person should report directly to the President instead of the Provost. This would eliminate the different levels of bureaucracy [and] should help to streamline and clarify the direction in which [the] student body would hope this University grows.

Kscope: Okay, so Kaleidoscope asked the Twitter students of UAB what they wanted to ask you, and student Courtney Campbell wanted to know [paraphrased for clarity], why have you made no effort to prioritize communicating with the undergraduate student body, when you met with important UAB groups like faculty and the graduate schools prior to the “no confidence” vote?

Watts: Well, the uh, I met just before classes, because it was the week of finals, just before, with the student government association presidents and leadership, and I met with faculties over that week during the break, and then I actually talked with Andy Marsch, who is helping organize our student advisory group about meeting with our students this week, but I think their first meeting is Friday, to get organized, so I asked him to get me together with that group next week, and I want to hear from y’all, what are the best venues for me to have an active one-on-one or group dialogue.

Kscope: So, how will UAB fill the void in student life without football?

Watts: Well, you know, that’s a good question, and I think that what you have to do is look at the whole picture, and each school and college, each unit, like research administration, or information technology, and athletics, have been going through a strategic plan. And the real quest there is for us to help each unit to do the very best they can to be [as] successful as possible, and to use our resources as wisely as possible, and to really optimize the investments. And, what we wanted to do is help all of our athletic teams be competitive in at least the upper half of Conference-USA, our conference, and we wanted some teams who had success to have the chance to win the conference and make everyone proud and go to NCAA playoffs of various kinds, even strive to win a national championship.

So, this strategic plan was to really help the comprehensive aspect of athletics, all of our teams, it’s only through the planning process and looking at the financial implications and the changes in Division I college sports that it became clear that we were going to have to make some financial decisions. So the overall goal is to enhance the athletic experience, to give our student athletes a better opportunity to be successful, and to give our student body a better opportunity to be excited and supportive of them.

Kscope: Another question that we had from Twitter from student Ryne Duren, he wants to know, how will you ensure transparency in the search for a new athletic director?

Watts: Well, we have worked very hard over the last weeks listening to our coaches, our athletics department, all of our constituencies, and the athletic director search committee will be actually fairly large to be as inclusive as possible, and all constituents are being represented with at least two or three members, so we’ve got a good diverse group. We obviously want to recruit someone who is excited about being at UAB, and about helping UAB athletics be successful and a positive experience as possible.

Kscope: As president of UAB, are you worried that the “no confidence” votes from your constituents will jeopardize UAB’s SACS accreditation?

Watts: No, I think the “no confidence” is disappointing, it’s very disappointing to me, and I take it very seriously, but before this one decision of hundreds of decisions that I’ve made, and continue to make, there’s never been a question of confidence and connection, and so that’s why it disappoints me.

From the standpoint of the SACS accreditation, we are very well prepared and we have a great university that’s doing great things, and our overall academics are sterling, and we’ve worked very hard for our accreditation process, and we have worked very hard on our quality enhancement program: learning in a team environment. So, we feel very good about that. I think the lack of connection will be a discussion, and I wanna articulate to them how important it is to me, and to all our leadership team, and we will be sure that we restore that, by our actions and by our activities.

Kscope: Well, that’s about all the questions I have for you. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Watts: Well, I would simply say that I want to make sure going forward that I’m never disconnected from our students. Our students are the essence of why we’re here. I myself was an undergraduate student here, loved my experience and have always loved UAB ever since, and the reason I came back to UAB.

So, I want our students to know that all of our actions are aimed at trying to help you have the best education, be socially responsible, have a well-rounded experience, and go on to be great people of the future, and our students impress me every time I interact with them. And I want to make sure that I’m interacting more, and enough, and they know how much I truly care about them and about this university.

But I have no question going forward that we will be a better university and that I will be a better leader, and I have learned from this experience some very valuable lessons, and I tell all of our students, and I’ve told my children, our children as they’re growing, my students, my young faculty, my senior faculty, that we should never stop learning, and it’s okay to make mistakes at times, but don’t make ‘em again, and learn from them, and be better off because of it. And honestly, as you know I’m sure, we many times learn a lot more from our mistakes than from everything that goes well, but we need to learn from the whole experience.

Kscope: Thank you.

Watts: Thank you.