July 17, 1997

Embattled University Head May Win New Post


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Ann Reynolds, the embattled chancellor of the City University of New York who has been harshly attacked in recent months by leaders of the university's governing board, appeared Wednesday before the trustees of the University of Alabama and made an eager pitch to become president of their Birmingham campus.

"If the job is offered, I would be pleased to do everything I can to make this system very successful," Dr. Reynolds said during a 90-minute public interview with the trustees. "If you need me in Tuscaloosa before a critical game, to tutor a student, I'll be there."

Dr. Reynolds is one of two finalists for the post of president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The other is Bernard Machen, the provost at the University of Michigan. He will be interviewed Thursday morning.

By the time Dr. Reynolds' session was finished, faculty members, students and trustees appeared to be uniformly impressed.

"I think she's a very impressive person," said Jack Edwards, an Alabama lawyer who served in Congress for 20 years and is chairman of the university's board of trustees. "She has been through the crucible. That certainly is an advantage in a university setting to have been there and done that."

Fred Trawick, a professor of marketing who is chair of the faculty senate, said, "I was pleasantly surprised. She is very polished, very charming." He too liked the fact that Dr. Reynolds is an experienced administrator, "who has been there and done that in big systems."

Dr. Reynolds stopped short of making an outright commitment that she would take the job if it was offered. And before the meeting with the trustees, she was very careful with her words. "I don't know," she said. "This is a very professional search. The university is looking at me and I'm getting acquainted with them. This is a very, very impressive place."

But Trawick said he believed that she was truly interested in moving to Birmingham. "I think she was genuine about wanting to go back to campus life and to have faculty and student contact. We talked to her about that this morning. I believe she is a good candidate."

Edwards said that the trustees had not asked her directly whether she would take the job, but he said, "I have to assume that those who have come for the interviews would take it if offered."

The job would be far less powerful than Dr. Reynolds' current and previous jobs. She would move from heading the United States' largest urban university system, with 21 campuses and 208,000 students, to a branch of the University of Alabama system, the 16,000-student campus, which has a noted medical school. The system's flagship campus is in Tuscaloosa.

Before coming to CUNY, Dr. Reynolds led the sprawling California State University system of 337,000 students and 22 campuses, but she left under duress after inquiries into the chancellor's office spending.

Underlying the tensions there, as in New York, was a consistent criticism among faculty and some administrators that her leadership style tended toward the autocratic and that she did not work hard enough to build consensus for changes in curriculum, long the protected domain of the faculty.

In addition, she has come under fire from New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and several CUNY board members who say she has not done enough to improve academic standards.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company