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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Alabama A&M Forgives $527,280,064 Debt Owed to the University by the State of Alabama

Updated: Nov 17

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on November 16, 2023: Updated at 2 p.m. PST

IMAGE: Alabama A&M University President Daniel K. Wims (left) promised Gov. Kay Ivey (right) that his university would not initiate any measures to collect the $527,280,064 debt that is owed to A&M by the state of Alabama. Ivey was ecstatic with this good news. She never thought that ripping-off educated black folks at A&M would be so easy.

An Editorial Opinion

Alabama A&M University has effectively forgiven the $527,280,064 debt owed to the school by the state of Alabama.  The debt was calculated by the federal government and memorialized in a September 18, 2023, letter from the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture to Alabama governor Kay Ivey.


Alabama A&M President Daniel K. Wims promptly notified Gov. Ivey that the university had no intention of taking any steps to collect this debt.  Additionally, the university has avoided making any public statement acknowledging the validity of this debt since it was announced by the federal government on September 18th.


President Wims tasked Huntsville attorney Rod Steakley, with coming up with a plausible excuse for not collecting the debt.   Steakley is a political conservative who serves as a director on the controversial Alabama Policy Institute.

IMAGE: Huntsville, Alabama attorney Rod Steakley, a director of the right-wing Alabama Policy Institute, serves as general counsel to Alabama A&M University.

The Institute is a Birmingham-based think tank that donated $1,077,500 in 2021 to convicted cocaine drug trafficker, serial motor vehicle thief, and attempted murderer Kenneth Bryan Dawson to start, run, and oversee the operations of 1819 News. This media organization functions as the de facto media arm of Rod Steakley's Alabama Policy Institute.

IMAGE: Inmate Kenneth Bryan Dawson. Courtesy of the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Rod Steakley and President Wims have convinced the university’s board of trustees that the $527,280,064 is not really owed to Alabama A&M because the university received whatever equity funding that was owed the institution from the state in a 2005 settlement of the long-running Knight v. Alabama higher education desgregation case.  Both men are dead wrong on this point, but it does not matter.  They have successfully gaslighted the university's notoriously weak and compromised board of trustees.

Steakley's legal advice provides President Wims with a "fig leaf" to cover for Wims’ failure to pursue debt collection measures, due to cowardice. Wims has privately told a couple of colleagues that he does not want to make Gov. Ivey angry at him by attempting to collect this debt.


Rod Steakley’s advice is in sync with a September 28, 2023, letter from Gov. Ivey to the Secretaries of Education and Agriculture where she disputed the debt and threatened the basic right of Alabama A&M to exist under the Morrill Act of 1890.  Ivey claims the Act is “unconstitutional.”

Gov. Kay Ivey rewarded President Wims for his cowardice by proclaiming October to be "HBCU Month." This proclamation was a symbolic gesture that had no monetary value attached to it. Like a puppy getting a pat on the head, Dr. Wims was ecstatic.

Rod Steakley ignored a request by one Alabama A&M trustee to place a resolution on the board of trustees’ October 27, 2023, meeting agenda to authorize the university to begin debt collection actions. Steakley simply refused to prepare the resolution.

Board chairman Roderick D. Watts, who supports the university’s de facto forgiveness of this $527,280,064 debt, is a Wims stooge. Community and civic leaders in Watts' hometown of Gadsden view him as a Clarence Thomas-style "Uncle Tom."


Instead of pursuing debt collection activities at the October board meeting, President Wims authorized a surreptitious “dirty tricks” operation that targeted me. The operation used washed-up Alabama-based political operative, domestic violence arrestee, and freelance “media whore” Steve Flowers to spread character assassination information about me with news media organizations within his syndication network.  

IMAGE: Steve Flowers, an Alabama-based "dirty tricks" political operative who masquerades as a freelance journalist.

Earlier this year, Flowers was successful in getting one of these outlets -- the Tuscaloosa News -- to publish a “character assassination” article against me that he was paid to write in March during one of his periods of sobriety. 

For the right price, the Tuscaloosa News will trash anybody.  For example, in 2017, the Tuscaloosa News trashed University of Alabama honors student Megan Rondini in her rape-suicide case.  The News prostituted itself for money by publishing the full-page ad depicted below, which trashed and bashed a deceased Megan Rondini and her grieving family.

Last week, one statewide media organization confirmed to us that they flatly rejected Steve Flowers' latest character assassination article that targeted me. They also confirmed that Flowers had been hired by Alabama A&M to write and publish the article.

Meanwhile, President Wims, who is an alleged sexual predator of men and women, is reportedly exploring counseling for his alleged sexual addiction.  However, Wims has taken no action to get professional help for the flock of alleged sexual predators and deadbeats he brought to Alabama A&M's campus while serving as provost and president.

Rod Steakley, a Trojan Horse for Alabama's right-wing political agenda, is effectively running Alabama A&M from his outside legal counsel’s platform.  While Steakley comes to the table with his own baggage, he knows all of Wims' weaknesses, inferiority complex when dealing with white authority, and dark secrets. Steakley effectively uses this information and Wims' weaknesses to the advantage of the Alabama Policy Institute and other right-wing groups in Alabama.

Alabama A&M trustees are completely disengaged from their oversight role. They are merely play-acting in the role of trustees. What is more, trustees Roderick D. Watts (chairman of the board), Kevin Ball, Tiffany Johnson Cole, Richard Crunkleton, Scherrie Banks Pickett, John Hackett, Jr., and Elizabeth B. Richardson have formed a human shield of sorts around Wims. Yet, not one of these trustees has lifted a finger to help the identified male and female victims of President Wims' alleged sexual abuse.

One of these trustees also has a close personal relationship with President Wims.

Gov. Kay Ivey is happy that Alabama A&M has walked away from the $527,280,064 debt the state owes to the university, without a fight. Ivey and her staff were amazed at how easy it was to rip-off educated black folks at Alabama A&M for $527,280,064.

Interestingly, no state legislator or any other candidate who is running for Congress in Alabama has said a word about collecting this $527,280,064 and delivering it to Alabama A&M. They, too, are sleep-walking their way through this costly and embarassing failure of leadership.


Former governor Bob Riley is extremely happy with Alabama A&M University's de facto forgiveness of this $527,280,064 debt because he will be able to use this money for a project that benefits one of his lobbying firm’s clients.  Even though Kay Ivey holds the title of governor, it's an open secret in Montgomery that Bob Riley still runs the office.


Finally, Alabama A&M is back to its traditional role of begging alumni for money, squeezing former students with aggressive debt collection tactics, and hustling "guilt trip" donations from the heads of major corporations. The university's president is most comfortable on his knees.

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