Category Archives: education

A lack of bedside manners and options presented at UAB

DrRayWattsSrMD-232x300There’s a commonly held stereotype that doctors don’t all have the best bedside manner. I’ve been lucky to know a few doctors in my life (some as friends, at least one as family) that don’t measure up to that perception; they’re engaging, informative, and personable. Unfortunately, the last 48 hours have demonstrated that it might actually apply to UAB president Ray Watts (especially after the release of an extended video clip showing his interaction with members of the football team during their closed door meeting).

In February 2013 I wrote of the need for the next president of UAB to dreams bigger dreams while being willing to use the bully pulpit to do so. Recent events weren’t exactly what I had in mind.

There is something most doctors are normally good at doing – offering us options and encouraging us to get a second opinion. Even those with the worst bedside manner are capable of this feat. I haven’t found a real instance of the UAB president providing any to the student body. The document used to justify Tuesday’s announcement (merely part of the strategic plan that still needs to be made public upon its completion) took one off the table right off the bat – competing as a Football Championship Subivision (FCS) school instead of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Given the answers former UAB athletic director Brian Mackin wrote to UNC Charlotte during their exploratory process – ones shared in a this piece published on the Business of College Sports on December 3 – it’s understandable why; we are in the heart of the most rabid college football fan base in the country. (Incidentally, if you’re still attempting to blame Mackin for what happened even after you realize he basically gave up his post because he didn’t agree with it, stop.) Note, 14 of the 16 schools in Division I to discontinue football since 1995 are FCS schools as mentioned in this piece on the site’s front page today.

What happened at East Tennessee State?

Another option not readily offered was allowing students to decide if they’d be willing to increase student fees to offset the anticipated costs for the program. This is how East Tennessee State University will bring their team back to action next year to compete in the FCS. Their student government voted 22-5 to increase their student fees by $125/semester to support a return of football in 2013. Their university president was in attendance at the vote. This followed a controversial vote of the entire student body in 2007 (four years after the program wrapped up its final season at 3-6 knowing it was the last one) that failed to garner support. The vote in 2013 was not without some students voicing concern about how they would find another $1,000 over four years to pay for their college education (an extremely legitimate one), but the option was presented and considered.

Could their plan work if carried out at UAB?

Based on their plan (as it was passed by Tennessee’s state Board of Regents) and UAB’s currently listed total student population of 18,568, a similarly approved measure would generate $4,642,000 per year if implemented next academic year. Even if enrollment numbers did not increase, $23,210,000 would be available over a five-year period. If the UAB Football Foundation were also able to average $5 million in fund raising efforts per year for the next five years, UAB would have $48,210,000 available to use. Taking the level of passion showed in recent days into consideration and assuming the student body did continue to increase, it’s safe to say the $49 million deficit cited in the analysis could easily be filled – and that’s before the city, county, and state get involved – saving all three discontinued teams.

The timeline of events at East Tennessee State University reminds us neat and tidy is not always possible and that solutions could take time (something the current Blazers may not possess). The idea of an FBS team not taking the field in the Football Capital of the South does have some cringing and upset – after all, as former long-time Birmingham News sports editor Zipp Newman famously wrote, “Football is a religion of the Southland, played by the boys and lived and relived daily by their families.” I’m positive the ‘Dean of Southern sports writers’ would be calling for frank, candid discussions about the options available short and long-term. We need someone – maybe even the university president – to be more candid about what’s possible.

It’s also worth noting if the process necessary for an East Tennessee State-type of solution are carried out the same way here, the final decision would lie with the university system board of trustees. It would be a moment to see if they will listen to their students or if this is about something else. It’d also show if they were willing to take the words of their first chancellor (UAB’s first president, Joseph Volker) to heart about dreaming big dreams for Birmingham.

André Natta is the stationmaster for

UPDATE: Keeping music in our hearts and our children's lives

UPDATE: 10.1.2008, 6:15 p.m. Good news…

UPDATE: 10.1.2008, 4 p.m., We’ve received word that things may be getting worked out. We’d still encourage anyone who can to attend Saturday’s performance. We also thank those of you that did reach out.

Late last night, we received an email from organizers of this weekend’s Barrage concert at the BJCC. The event had been created to serve as a benefit for Scrollworks, a non-profit organized last year with a mission “to offer quality music education for children in the local community regardless of their ability to pay, with a focus on minorities and the under-served areas of Greater Birmingham.” The simple version is, they need our support now more than ever.

They informed us that they’d recently received the estimated bill for miscellaneous fees associated with the use of the concert hall after repeated requests for that information in order to determine how to budget for the event. They’ve now determined that even if the hall sells out at adult ticket prices, the $6,000 bill, covering security costs, first aid needs, and ushers, necessary for Saturday’s concert, which will include performances by young string players coming from Selma and Gadsden, will make it impossible to raise funds as a result of the event – it would in fact place the organization in dire straits.

They’ve sent messages to the BJCC’s Jack Fields, Birmingham City Councilor Roderick Royal and Mayor Langford’s chief of staff Deborah Vance (or at least the mayor’s office) to see if something could be done to help, especially considering the fact that the performance and educational session is scheduled for the end of the week.

Now I’m not necessarily sure of what I can ask our readership can do. There are two things though – well three. We could encourage all of you to attend the concert, beginning at 7 p.m. on Saturday, no matter where it ends up being held.

We could ask that you contact Scrollworks and see how you’d be able to help, either by offering to usher, providing additional funds to help offset the costs of the event or by seeing what else they need.

We could also ask that you add your voices to theirs in seeing if something could be done to reduce the cost to Scrollworks.

It is a lot to ask, especially considering the roller coaster that our national economy has been on in recent weeks. But the benefit to the children that will take part in this educational experience and who will have a chance to perform and showcase their musical talent is worth making a plea through our virtual hub for the city and to see what can happen.

A new sense of community, shown through XOs

The first part of a series of posts about solutions outside of The Magic City shows that Mayor Langford’s vision for a wireless Birmingham is not that far off base. The main issue may be the fact that few are really looking at just how much of that solution may already exist.

There are approximately 83 free wireless hotspots in Birmingham, AL proper according to AnchorFree, a website that maintains lists for cities across the country. There are 58 hotspots listed in Washington, DC on the website. Take a closer look in the metro area, and the number jumps significantly, courtesy of this list maintained by IPSA and TechBirmingham. As we prepare to introduce 15,000 laptops into the daily local lives of Birmingham’s youth, we made need to reexamine just what we really need to be doing to embrace wireless technology.

Perhaps the main issue involves expanding where the hotspots are, as well as providing more information about what it actually means to have that access. It will do no good to claim that the access points are not where they’re needed. We simply need to find more ways to provide that service there. Providing access in area churches is a start, perhaps with the hope that it will encourage families in our community to take advantage of the service at home if possible. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. If we are going to provide that edge to our youth that this program is supposed to provide in terms of the digital divide, we will have to drastically expand just what it means to be wireless.

We don’t have to go as far as Philadelphia did with their attempt at a citywide wireless cloud, but we need to at least be leaning in that general direction. We need to not be ashamed to provide the service in areas that may not think it’s that cool to do so. As many of us have said before, maybe changing how we think about us can change how others view us. Let’s expand Internet access in several area parks and encouraging more access in some of our restaurants that may not currently see it as something that they need to offer. Encouraging students to frequent their libraries, where access is already available, may also be quite useful in this instance.

Something I discovered during the trip (and on other trips around the country in the last year) was just how much a WiFi hotspot encourages community (at least among those that need their access). It is still too early in the history of this site to rely on a built in mobile broadband card, though if we keep it up, it will become necessary. Even if that’s the case, it still means something to work in a space with others, allowing you to learn more about wherever you are. One of the biggest concerns surrounding our continuing reliance on the Internet is how much we may not talk with others. It’s becoming less and less of a realistic argument. WiFi access can, many times, open those lines of communication.

We all look towards creating a greater sense of community and opportunity in The Magic City. It may be time to also stop looking to tired excuses as to why we don’t move forward. That said, we must also always take a look at all sides of an issue before jumping in with both feet. The long term benefit to the city in terms of how productive we are and what it means to companies looking to move here is too important to not look at a holistic approach to the divide.

The spotlight's on education

With comments about a domed stadium, urban revitalization and other things, concern about our local educational system is rampant and dominating everything else, especially after word that the state wants the ctiy’s board of education to shut down 20 schools. There will be many that ask whether or not the closings need to happen, pointing to the same heartstrings that seem to control a great deal of the decision making that occurs in our region. There are those that do not want to see things to change; they like the way that things were. Unfortunately, we will only see the Birmingham that we want to exist if we allow ourselves to let go of certain “rules,” including those that keep us pining for the past while preventing us from reaching out for a new standard.

There are many that question whether or not Mayor Langford’s plans for a laptop in every school-age child is a good one. They say that there are more pressing issues that should be solved. It is an idea, and if nothing else it is something that will force the conversation about what needs to be done with not just our school system, but several suffering systems throughout the country, into the limelight (which is where it truly needs to be). It seems to be doing the job right now.

The focus of the forums, blogs and websites in recent weeks is the idea that a program for that was aimed at third-world countries will be tried in Birmingham. If we cannot help our own children, it makes us look just a little hypocritical to want to help others while turning a blind eye to our own problems.

The bigger issue is that the topic of education is one that people love to point to as one of great concern, but very few are willing to really make very hard decisions about what needs to be done for the good of the children and the city. The issue definitely ranked high among young professionals in our poll from earlier this month. A solution that many have looked to often is running to the next town over, not realizing that the problems will eventually follow them, if not in a different form. An overcrowded school is just as detrimental to a child’s educational future as a school that is not adequately funded. The problem continues to be one of our own making.

While Birmingham’ declining population has led to the need for these schools to be closed down, that does not mean that we need to lose the schools. If we can’t afford to run them and provide a quality education for our children, then we need can always reduce the financial strain by closing them and focusing on larger student populations with excellent resources. The closings may also allow us to renovate those “closed” schools during this period preparing them for a return to use later on, though on a much slower schedule than would have been necessary before.

The eternal optimist in me believes that if we’re successful in doing what needs to be done with those schools that are left open after this round of closings, that we’ll need to re-open those other schools. The immediate desire to sell them off or tear them down for new development opportunities will remove the ease at which the problem that we all want to see occur, an overcrowding problem, can and would be easily solved in the coming years in Birmingham than how it must be addressed with each shovel that must be turned in the ground of our surrounding neighbors.

The issue of laptop distribution is one that I think may serve a greater good. If all of the students have access to a laptop, they have a key to knowledge that is undoubtedly beneficial to our city and region. They may be willing to share ideas with each other and, with proper supervision, with others outside of our immediate area.  It’s also something that’s a bit selfish as the more people with access to a laptop, the more that become more comfortable with the notion of sharing information online and eventually carrying that conversation into action through Jones Valley and over the mountain. It’s a long term benefit to a long term solution to a long term problem.

What are your thoughts about the future of education in our region and what can be done to help it improve? Do you believe in the plan proposed by Mayor Langford?

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.