THE PORT RAIL: How to spend $4.4 million on a good cause

Normally, I don’t think in terms of millions of dollars. I’m a retired professor and have a comfortable retirement income that I earned and am happy with it. Although like so many of you guys with fixed income, no one has “fixed” it during this time of raging inflation. I’m still getting the same as pre-COVID-19.

But over the past few weeks the spending habits of the board of trustees at the University of Alabama have been revealed — perhaps a better description is “the shroud has been pulled back” — on their spending habits in an article written by Rob Holbert in the newsmagazine Lagniappe published in Mobile.

In the role of being helpful, let me suggest something about the $4.4 million that the board was spending on restoring and fixing up the old Bryce superintendent’s home to serve as kind of a relaxation spot for the board and their many guests. That money should, in fact, be redirected to something a bit more in keeping with what higher education should be doing for the community and state.

Not only are we educators, but we also are activists. English majors may write poetry to edify the soul, while the engineers are building electric cars and other ways to move our material life forward. They all contribute something, either for the life of the mind, or as in a program like criminal justice, how keep our society sane and safe.

My wife, Louise, and I were driving past the old old Sears building on 15th Street, right across the street from Wright’s Bakery, one Sunday on the way to church when she said, “Why doesn’t someone turn the old Sears store [now abandoned] into a halfway house for prisoners coming out of the jail?”

We both are veterans of the Tuscaloosa County Jail Christian ministry. The jail has been closed for almost two years to Christian ministers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we hope to return as soon as the sheriff and police chief are ready to open the jail again to Christian ministers.

Anyhow, we have met a lot of people over the years in teaching at the jail and, of course, many of our "congregation” get out eventually to continue with their lives. This is usually a tough time. There are two halfway houses in Tuscaloosa, largely to deal with drug addiction, but we both thought we needed one with a close connection to our Christian faith.

So, here’s our proposal. Take the $4.4 million that we don’t think the board of trustees needs for a hospitality house of sorts to toast themselves and their friends, and divert it to the new halfway house, either at the old Sears building or someplace more appropriate like a large, perhaps abandoned, old home or building.

The University of Alabama Halfway House could be tied to any number of existing entities at UA, such as criminal justice, church-related student centers, etc. And the directors and staff wouldn’t need a motorcycle, siren-studded, police escort for the games at Bryant-Denny Stadium on game day.

Given the fact that the Lagniappe article, “The Fabulous Lives of the UA Board of Trustees” on Nov. 17, 2021, revealed millions of dollars being spent on lavish digs for the board, travel to away games, and other necessary perks established for the board by its chancellor, Finis St. John, we don’t think a small percentage of the costs of their lavish lifestyles — not to even mention the extravagant salaries of top administrators —i s too much to add another $5 million to establish a fund to support the University of Alabama Halfway House, kind of like an academic endowment, a familiar institution at most colleges and universities.

Since the chancellor alone makes over $1 million a year, and his top assistants are in the $300,000 to $800,000 a year — and there are more administrators than faculty members at UA these days — an $8 million or $10 million expenditure to restore jailed and imprisoned people to a new life, perhaps a new career and in a Christian environment is not too much to ask from the university “Where legends are made.” Let’s leave the logo and legends to the phrasemakers and publicists and instead let’s remake some of our people to be constructive, contributing citizens.

Learning a new skill could be part of the highly disciplined, demanding and well-organized UA Halfway House.

By the way, it’s nice to know how well-paid present and past administrators have been at UA. Read the article by Rob Holbert in Lagniappe for details.

Readers might be interested to know that those of us participating in various retirement systems run by the state, including educators, have not received a raise in, I think the article I read in 10 years, but next year, 2022, we will receive a $300 bonus. You read that right. Not $3 million, not $300,000, not even $3,000, but a $300 one-time bonus. Don’t spend your bonus all at once those of you on retirement incomes from the state. If you’re careful you may get a fill up for your old car and a weekly visit to the Pig or Winn-Dixie.

Larry Clayton is a retired University of Alabama history professor. Readers can email him at

Larry Clayton
Larry Clayton

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: THE PORT RAIL: How to spend $4.4 million on a good cause