16 years is too long a term for Auburn trustee to serve
Auburn University has discovered that influential trustee Bobby Lowder's term on its board ends in 2011 instead of 2007. Thus Mr. Lowder may enjoy some benefits from the four-year delay he endured before he finally got a new term in 1999.
Back in 1995, Mr. Lowder's previous 12-year term expired and then-Gov. Fob James tried to replace him. But he remained on the board until the state Senate confirmed his successor — who turned out to be Mr. Lowder himself, because by that time his ally Don Siegelman was governor.
The university and most everybody else have been saying the present term expires in 2007, but the university announced Friday that this was wrong. A spokesman produced a page from the 1999 Senate journal that contained a Siegelman letter setting the expiration date as Jan. 21, 2011.
Mr. Lowder's critics objected, worried about prolonging what they see as his destructive role. They say that he improperly influences other board members through business ties, and that the board has micro-managed the university. These allegations led to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools putting Auburn on a year's probation.
If this term lasts until 2011 and Mr. Lowder gets another term, he could serve until age 75 — extending his tenure to 35 years on the Auburn board. Whatever you think of his performance, that's a long time for one person to exercise the degree of influence he possesses on a board for which there are many other qualified potential members.
Somebody may ask the state attorney general for an opinion about when this particular term ends. But no matter what the attorney general says, litigation will probably ensue.
Meanwhile, the Legislature ought to clarify the law to make it clear that reappointments of sitting trustees don't get extended simply because the Senate takes its time with confirmations.
Sixteen years is more than twice what the voters said they wanted in 2000 when they approved a constitutional amendment reducing Auburn trustees' terms to seven years.