Friday, May 17, 2013

UNA Conflicts of Interest?

Due to the three million dollar appropriation the City of Florence recently budgeted for the University of North Alabama's new science building, several have asked what constitutes a conflict of interest? In many cases, especially in small towns, almost anything could be made to appear a conflict of interest if one tried hard enough.

Libby Jordan, the wife of Florence City Councilman Dick Jordan, is on the university's board of trustees. Barry Morris, another council member, is retired from the university. If any Florence resident indeed felt there was a conflict, he or she should report the matter to the state ethics commission.

Our personal opinion? No one received any personal gain from the donated funds, and the new science building will increase enrollment among, hopefully, local students.


Some associations are more difficult to analyze. A reader has asked about Dr. John G. Thornell (pictured). Thornell is provost at UNA and also serves as Vice President of Academic Affairs. It seems Thornell is also on the board of trustees at Columbia Southern University.

Offices for CSU are located in Orange Beach, Alabama, but its entire campus is the Internet. There are no traditional classes available from CSU, so is it in fact in competition with UNA? That's a difficult question. Looking at programs offered by CSU, we find Business and Criminal Justice among them. These two areas also compose a large percentage of UNA's curricula.

As with the two above referenced instances, it may be a question to be decided by the ethics commission...that is if anyone wishes to file a complaint. We're sure UNA is aware of Thornell's involvement with CSU. Officials at the university have probably been too busy recruiting Chinese students to give it much thought...



  1. Maybe not a conflict but it is just another example of how politics work in our city. The council members do not even take the time to answer their emails. At least none that I have sent.
    The money going to the new science building would have been better spent in the Florence City School system. I firmly believe that. Let UNA fund its own agendas with all the money they receive from the Chinese students.

  2. UNA is in the top ten major employers in the Shoals. The bigger the draw to UNA, no matter where the student call home, the better for the Shoals.

    Men and women of integrity run the university, and run it most efficiently. In the last several years, area schools have lost millions in funding due to pro-ration, and UNA was hit just as hard as every one else.

    There are no easy answers. To say the money would be "better spent" is debatable, and I am sure that county schools aren't in any less need of funds than city schools or UNA.

    Interesting reading from UNA's website:

    The University of North Alabama and its students, faculty and staff impact the Shoals area economy annually with about $161,007,441 in direct and indirect spending, according to a recent study conducted by the university’s Center for Public Policy and Economic Research (COPPER).

    “This is a significant study for both UNA and the community,” said Dr. William G. Cale, UNA president. “It reflects the university’s contributions to the economic strength of this area on several fronts, such as employment, spending and tax revenue. This community is vital to UNA, and so it’s important to us that the university benefit this area in the ways that it does.”

    The COPPER research team includes Dr. Doug Barrett, chair of the Department of Economics and Finance; Dr. Jim Couch, professor of economics; Dr. Keith Malone, assistant professor of economics; and Dr. Pete Williams, professor of economics.

    The research team conducted the study using UNA records as well as surveys conducted among university faculty, staff and students. The study analyzes UNA’s local economic impact in the following categories:

    *Indirect employment and earnings effects of employee and student spending
    *Total spending, employment and earnings impact
    *Local tax revenue generated by UNA students and employees
    *How UNA students and employees impact local financial institutions
    *How international students impact the local economy

    “A study such as this helps citizens to see that a state institution like UNA really is a state investment. It does generate revenue for our local economies,” Barrett said. “Any time we have an economic downturn, it can be easy to become cynical about government spending, but this helps us to see that we’re getting something back.”

    The economic impact study may be viewed in its entirety at

    1. I can say absolutely that three of "us" here support the appropriation; I have not consulted the other two. As for the recruiting of Chinese and other foreign students, I don't think UNA has studied anything but monetary gain in the impact they have on the community. I also have many friends who are much more opposed than I to giving Chinese or other foreign students slots in limited programs.