Demanding more transparency from the UA System

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt May 29, 2013

I am trying to bring more attention to the University of Alabama System’s decision to hire the brother of the University of Alabama president.

I hope people are still listening. More importantly, I hope they’re doing something about it.

We need to keep the conversation alive until the UA System starts to listen, too.

I encourage you to send letters to the editor. These letters keep people talking.

The Tuscaloosa News published my letter about hiring practices at the UAS.

The letter begins:

Dear Editor: The University of Alabama System’s decision to hire Rep. Jo Bonner, the brother of UA President Judy Bonner, is blatant
nepotism and shameful behavior by our public officials. My resume
lists my UA degree, not my family tree.

Read the full letter here.

Editors of opinion pages value letters that are brief and on-topic. I’m not going to give you a form letter or suggest you copy mine. Be sincere and direct. Keep it to 250 words, max. Also, for the love of all that’s holy (this is my editor voice here), run it through a spelling and grammar checker before you send it in!

Find out more about how to contact our local newspapers by scrolling to the end of my last post. A writer from also left a comment giving advice on how to reach the paper’s editors, so a sincere thanks to him.

It was heartening to see the Facebook comments on my letter. Ever since I heard about the University System hiring Jo Bonner, I’ve been baffled by the media’s coverage of it. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

But will the media actually do anything about it?

In my post yesterday, I asked you to contact members of the Alabama media and your state Legislators about this matter.

Did you do it?

If you didn’t, please take a few minutes to read the end of my post and then:

–          Call your legislator

–          Contact a member of the Alabama media

–          Write a letter to the editor

Remember to be polite when you reach out these folks. We need them.

Legislators pay attention to constituent emails. Newspaper editors pay attention to what their readers are saying.

But let’s not pin our hopes solely to the actions of the media and our elected officials. Let’s apply some of that pressure ourselves.

Today I reached out to Kellee Reinhart, spokeswoman for the University of Alabama System. I asked her five questions about the decision to hire Jo Bonner:

1) Was this job advertised?

2) Are there other members of the Bonner family who currently work for the UA System or its affiliated institutions? If so what is their name, relationship to Judy Bonner, salary and beginning date of employment?

3) Are there any family members of the Board of Trustees-Chancellor who are employees of the UA System or its affiliated institutions? If so what is their name, relationship to trustee members-Chancellor and beginning date of employment?

4) Will the University System provide me with email communications between Jo Bonner and Chancellor Robert Witt, Chancellor Witt and Judy Bonner, Chancellor Witt and the Board of Trustees members, Judy Bonner and the Board of Trustees members and Jo Bonner and the Board of Trustees members for the period of July 1, 2012 to May 29, 2013?

5) Will the university system provide me Chancellor Witt’s written exemption for hiring Jo Bonner as stipulated in the Board of Trustees manual?

I’m highlighting the request for emails because the university probably won’t give it up without a formal records request. It’s my policy to ask politely first and follow up with a records request, if I am ignored or my request is declined.

In my experience, email requests can be tricky. You don’t want to be overly-broad but you also don’t want to exclude any relevant messages.

You have to start somewhere.

But why go it alone?

Since I’ve got your attention, why don’t you all send a short, polite note to Kellee asking the University System to release records of these communications? The emails are a matter of public record. The public should ask for them and UAS should provide them.

To find her contact information, click here.

Remember, be polite. She’s just doing her job.

The University System maintains this was an above-board transaction. I’ll quote President Ronald Reagan: trust but verify.

Maybe if enough people pressure the system to disclose more information, the system will provide it to remove any lingering doubts.

Here’s hoping …

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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