University of Alabama Board of Trustees

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The University of Alabama Board of Trustees is a group charged with overseeing the properties and operations of the University of Alabama System. Its primary function is described in the Board Manual, "determine major policy, review existing policy, define the missions, role and scope of the University and each of its major divisions or component institutions (hereinafter sometimes referred to as "campus"), and provide ultimate accountability to the public and the political bodies of Alabama."

The first board was created, along with the charter of the "University of the State of Alabama" itself, by the Alabama Territorial Assembly in 1820. The group was sworn in on December 19, 1821 with two members from each judicial circuit to serve three-year terms, with Governor Israel Pickens presiding. The primary power of appointment to the board was given to the Assembly, voting in a joint body, but vacancies occurring between legislative sessions were left to be filled by the board itself.

In 1822 a law expanded the board to eighteen members, with the six new members drawn from those residing within fifty miles of the university (though the actual site of the university would not be chosen for another five years). The board proceeded to oversee the sale of endowed lands to fund the creation of a university and to select Tuscaloosa as its site and Alva Woods as its first president. The university opened to students in April 1831.

The board of trustees was re-organized in 1843, with the addition of the justices of the Alabama Supreme Court offset by reducing the number of representatives from each judicial circuit to two, except for the circuit containing Tuscaloosa, which would have three members. Board service was also limited at that time to members aged thirty and older.

In 1858 the board was enlarged to admit two additional members from the judicial circuit containing Tuscaloosa, though no more than two of the four members representing that circuit were allowed to reside within Tuscaloosa County itself.

As reconstituted by the Alabama Constitution of 1901, the board was made up of two members from the Congressional District including Tuscaloosa and one member from each of the state's other districts, along with the Alabama Superintendent of Education and the Governor of Alabama, who presides as chair ex-officio.

Members serve 12-year terms and receive no payment, except in reimbursement of "actual expenses incurred in the discharge of board duties." In light of earlier efforts by Governors to interfere with the university's endowment, the Constitution provided that the board would appoint its own members to vacant seats by secret ballot.

The state legislature gave Alabama's extension centers in Birmingham and Huntsville the status of universities and created the University of Alabama System in 1969. In 1976 the Board appointed UAB's Joseph Volker as the system's first chancellor, with executive authority over the three campus presidents. The move highlighted fears that the growth of the two urban campuses would proceed at the expense of the main campus in Tuscaloosa. Since that time, the board's actions to preserve Tuscaloosa's pre-eminent position have been interpreted as favoritism and there have been numerous calls for a more diverse membership on the board, better representing the entire system.

In 1981, responding to backlash against the absence of African Americans on the board, the State Senate, led by Lieutenant Governor George McMillan, blocked confirmation of four appointees and put a board expansion measure on the ballot for a statewide referendum on March 17, 1982. The amendment passed, doubling the number of board members to two from each district, plus a third, "from the congressional district which includes the site of the first campus of the university."

The amendment also reduced the term of board members to six years and limited members to three consecutive terms. It further created the honorary position of "trustee emeritus," with "no responsibilities, duties, rights, or privileges as such."

After the amendment's passage, three African Americans and four women were appointed by the board to fill the seven newly-created board seats. However, the Alabama State Senate, led by new Lieutenant Governor Bill Baxley, rejected five of the seven newly-installed members and nominated their own replacements.

In 2012 a bill was drafted in the Alabama House of Representatives to create separate Boards of Trustees for UAB and UAH and transfer the properties and liabilities pertaining to each campus to their respective boards. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education Policy and never voted upon.

In 2015, after UAB president Ray Watts terminated the UAB Blazers football, rifle and bowling programs, Representative Jack Williams submitted new bills to require ethics training for board members, to add more representatives from Birmingham and Huntsville, and to require UAB to field a football team.










  • Alabama Constitution of 1901, Section 264
  • Benson, James Sellers (1953) History of the University of Alabama: Volume One, 1818-1902. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press
  • Wheat, Jack (July 12, 1983) "3 trustees quit; poisoned political climate charged" Tuscaloosa News
  • Brown, Melissa (November 16, 2014) "Who makes up the University of Alabama Board of Trustees?" The Birmingham News
  • Holbert, Bob (November 17, 2021) "The fabulous lives of the UA Board of Trustees." Lagniappe Weekly

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