The price of poker just went up for Alabama State University, but the big losers this time could be the students at ASU.
For months, top officials of ASU have responded to requests for information about allegations of improprieties by keeping their cards close to their vests, stonewalling request after request from the governor for records about trustees and top officials and their dealings with the university.
So far, that strategy has managed to stymie Gov. Robert Bentley and a forensic audit he ordered after the former president of ASU said he was forced out of office when he tried to look into such matters. If anything, it has made the governor appear ineffectual.
But last week the university's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, asked ASU officials to provide evidence that trustees and their family members don't have a financial interest in the university.
As poker players might say after a big bet, "the price of poker just went up" with that request.
If ASU officials try the same strategy with SACS that they used with the governor and forensic auditors, it could do as much harm to the university as anything such records might disclose.
And that would be shameful, because the people who would be most hurt by any loss of accreditation at ASU would be the students who are currently enrolled there.
A loss of accreditation would seriously devalue any degree from ASU, and in some cases make it more difficult for ASU graduates to find employment in their field of study.
Of course, if ASU officials are more interested in protecting those in power than in protecting students, continuing to try to stonewall might accomplish that. But providing incomplete documentation and alleging racism on the part of the state isn't likely to satisfy SACS.
SACS officials made that clear in their letter to ASU, stating that "evidence of withholding information, providing inaccurate information, failing to provide timely and accurate information" or similar tactics "will be seen as a lack of full commitment to integrity."
When ASU officials filed a lawsuit in California against the firm conducting the forensic audit of the university, they played the race card by claiming that it "has been judicially determined that ASU has long been the victim of engrained and widespread racial discrimination by the State of Alabama and its governor."
But that conveniently ignores the fact that this entire investigation was set in motion by ASU's own former president, who claimed that he was ousted after questioning contracts and other issues.
If ASU officials have the best interests of students and the university at heart, they will comply fully and promptly with the SACS request. And if they believe in the public's right to know how its business is being conducted, they will make all of that information public as well.
It should never be forgotten that virtually all of the information requested by the governor and by SACS involves public records to which any Alabamian should have access.
Alabama taxpayers should hope that state and federal prosecutors are following this controversy closely as well, and that subpoenas will soon be on their way to require these records to be provided to investigators.
But in the meantime, the SACS request is too crucial for ASU officials to play the same sort of games they played with Bentley's requests. ASU officials owe it to the students at the university to comply fully and immediately to SACS.
Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2013 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.
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