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Probation lingers over Livingston school

LIVINGSTON — Members of the University of West Alabama Board of Trustees wasted little time selecting its new chairman on Monday.

Alex Saad, who has served on the board for five years, unanimously won the position that has recently garnered a great deal of public attention.

Met with a stirring round of applause, Saad told a crowded Bell Conference Center, that his top priority — and the most pressing issue to the entire board — is the academic probation levied by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

“We’ve got a lot of work between now and September, and again in December,” Saad said.

Preston “Mann” Minus, who served as previous chairman, called the Monday morning meeting to order, but quickly stepped aside when Saad received unanimous approval by the board.

Three new board members, all appointed by Gov. Bob Riley earlier this year, played integral roles in Monday’s meeting.

Thomas Ballow Jr. was elected vice chairman of the UWA Board of Trustees, and Demopolis banker John Northcutt was elected chairman. Margaret Lovett, the third new member of the board, was part of a nominating committee that suggested Saad be named the new chairman.

Along with their positions on the board, Ballow and Northcutt also were unanimously selected to the executive committee, after nomination from Saad.

Dr. Joe Morton, Alabama’s interim superintendent of education, attended Monday’s meeting and outlined the strenuous requirements being placed on teachers under President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” act.

“Our challenge is great in public education,” said Morton, who became interim superintendent when Dr. Ed Richardson left to become interim president of Auburn University.

Discussing successful programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative, Morton told board members that all schools, including UWA, have an opportunity to be part of a statewide reform.

“We’re going to turn the public education system inside-out,” he said. “We’re going to turn them all into schools of excellence.”

UWA President Dr. Richard Holland spent the majority of his report to the board detailing some of the growth of his school. From the enhancement of sports programs, the push to light Tiger Stadium for night games, and an overall increase in enrollment, Holland said the university continues to progress in numerous areas.

However, Holland did give board members another reason to move UWA out of academic probation. For the upcoming fall semester, UWA’s current enrollment has dropped from the 2003 numbers.

“I believe this has to do solely with the probation that lingers,” he said. “One or two times a week, I talk to a recruit or a parent who is concerned.”

Though getting through the probationary period is chief among the concerns of UWA administrators, the university has become proactive in its approach to reaching more prospective students.

Bari Watson, director of development for UWA’s Institutional Advancement and Alumni Affairs office, gave a short presentation detailing some of the ways the university hopes to catch the attention of potential students.

UWA will begin airing a commercial in some area markets highlighting the diversity of students who attend the university. Another boost to the marketing effort includes a 10-minute segment set to air on E! during the network’s National Collegiate Review program. That segment gives an in-depth look at the university, detailing the many courses of study and safe environment at UWA.