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Local UWA students unaware of trustee crisis

Students at the University of West Alabama, at least those who hail from Demopolis, don’t know a lot about the Board of Trustees controversy at the Livingston institution.

Infighting several years ago split the 13-member board into two factions, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the school on probation Tuesday in reaction to the board problems.

In a phone survey Friday of several Demopolis natives who attend UWA, the majority knew little to nothing about it. A few had possibly heard about the issue in passing from a teacher.

The situation did not hit home with Brandi Broadhead until probation was announced. "I thought they would eventually work it out," she said. Broadhead is the co-editor of The Life, the student newspaper at UWA. She plans to write a letter to Alabama Governor Bob Riley about her concerns about the threat of loss of accreditation if the situation is not resolved. Riley will have an opportunity to replace five of the board members next month. The UWA board is split between a faction led by Tom Umphrey and a faction led by Mann Minus.

Riley’s appointees would have to be approved by the State Senate.

The student newspaper has not featured any articles on the controversy, Broadhead said.

Exams were finishing up when the probation was announced, and students were leaving campus.

Despite the board problems, UWA had its highest student enrollment in years in 2003.

The UWA Board of Trustees split into two factions back in early March of this year.

The split was largely due to the disagreement on the hiring of ex-board member Drayton Pruitt as the attorney for the board last December. The minority faction led by Umphrey is made up of six members and they successful ousted then Chairman Preston "Mann" Minus at the board meeting in March.

Two years ago, SACS began an investigation that led to 14 questions they asked UWA administrators to address. Two of those questions were specifically related to the Board of Trustees.

In the first board-centered question, SACS asked if the board had micromanaged the university. They questioned the extent of the board’s involvement in the day-to-day activities of the university, suggesting there was a problem.

The second question dealt with the board’s splintered approach to overseeing UWA.

After that initial investigation, Board of Trustee members passed a variety of resolutions that restricted their ability to get involved with the daily affairs of the school