Why Walker Couldn't Stay

Phillip Marshall writes about the change in leadership at Samford Hall as well as the slumping basketball team.

The sad irony of William Walker's demise as Auburn's president is that he was, in many ways, what most Auburn people want.

He was not a puppet of the Board of Trustees, defying their wishes on several occasions. He hired a provost neither the board nor the faculty wanted. And no matter how much some might want to believe otherwise, it was he and not Bobby Lowder or any other trustee who initially decided to go after Tommy Tuberville's job. He stubbornly defended athletic director David Housel, even when it became obvious most trustees wanted him replaced.

At the hearing that led to Auburn being placed on SACS probation, he was praised by members of the panel. Former attorney general Griffin Bell, who led the panel, urged him to stay at Auburn for a long time.

But Walker couldn't stay. His own actions and words did him in.

When Walker made his ill-advised trip to meet Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino, his position became tenuous at best. But even that might not have cost him his job. What cost him his job, more than anything else, was his response when the trip was exposed.

Walker displayed remarkable arrogance. He defended the indefensible. And he lied. He seemingly was oblivious to the problems created by issuing conflicting statements.

For most of his tenure as president, Walker was as invisible as a university president can be. But when he was exposed to the glare of public scrutiny, he couldn't handle it. He lost his ability to lead anybody, much less the state's largest university.

Last Friday, it all came crashing down. Walker resigned under pressure applied by Gov. Bob Riley. Tuesday, the Board will approve Riley's recommendation that Ed Richardson, the state schools superintendent, be named interim president. Richardson's No. 1 job will be to make sure the university does what is necessary to get off SACS probation next December. There will be a nationwide search for a permanent president, and Richardson is not likely to be a candidate.

Athletic director David Housel surely feels much less secure in his job today than he did before Walker was forced out. He has told numerous people he wants to stay through 2006, but that's not going to happen. It is extremely unlikely he will go through 2004.

There are those who hope that these moves will calm Auburn's troubled waters and that people will come together and put the good of the university first. Sadly, not everyone seems to want that.

Gary R. Mullen, the president of the Auburn chapter of the American Association of University Professors, released an open letter to Riley on Saturday. In the letter, he urges Riley not to name an interim president. He wants a faculty-alumni committee formed to "identify an individual who is willing to serve Auburn University in a temporary capacity as chief executive officer and to facilitate the process of selecting an interim president." He goes on to say that no appointment of an interim president should be made until Bobby Lowder and Earlon McWhorter resign from the Board of Trustees.

Mullen writes that failing to follow his recommendations "is almost guaranteed to lead to further controversy and distrust in the governance process at Auburn University and the risk of losing SACS accreditation."

And the beat goes on. There are those with agendas of their own who have not and will not put the needs of the university first. And they are on both sides of the ongoing fight that continues to damage the university.

Auburn is not going to lose SACS accreditation. The demands made by SACS are not overly harsh and will be met. Mullen and others on the faculty would like to hire their own boss, but that's not going to happen and shouldn't happen.

Whether Mullen and others in his group like it or not, Richardson will be named interim president Tuesday. The healthy thing for Auburn would be for all factions to come together and create the most positive atmosphere possible and to work together for the school they all claim to love. When I first heard about Walker's resignation, I thought that might happen,

Silly, silly me.

MELTDOWN IN T-TOWN

Two weeks into the Southeastern Conference schedule, Auburn's basketball season is on the verge of disaster.

The Tigers could have won at Vanderbilt but didn't. They should have won at home against South Carolina but didn't. And then came a trip to Tuscaloosa. It was very, very ugly.

After falling behind 8-2, Alabama switched to a 2-3 zone defense. It was as good as over right then and there. The Tide went on a 31-4 run and went on to win 69-46.

Point guard Lewis Monroe clearly is nowhere near full-speed. Brandon Robinson was injured in the first half. But neither of those things explains such a meltdown. The Tigers simply couldn't make shots. They had plenty of open looks at the basket, but for most of the night, it might as well have had a lid on it.

Such a performance might be written off as just one of those nights, but the same thing happened at home against South Carolina. The only reason that game was close was that South Carolina couldn't hit shots either. If the trend continues, this season is going to be one huge disappointment.

Wednesday night's home game against Arkansas is more than a big game. It is absolutely crucial. A win wouldn't mean the season has been turned around, but a loss would almost certainly mean you could write this season off as a lost cause.


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