The Education Senator Redux

Tuberville claims he was taken "out of context."

“Tommy Tuberville – Caricature” by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

To follow up on my post from yesterday (The Education Senator), I would note the following from WAFF: Alabama Education Association responds to Sen. Tuberville’s remarks on teachers.

Senator Tuberville’s staff reached out to us to defend the comments, saying they’re being taken out of context. Here is the response from the Senator’s Communications Director:

In the interview, Coach Tuberville spoke specifically about Baltimore. 23 schools in Baltimore were recently found to have ZERO students who were proficient in math. That’s what Coach was talking about. 

As for “inner city” versus suburban schools or rural schools, again there are countless examples of this problem nationwide. Chicago, for example, also had 55 schools without a single student proficient in math and 33 schools without a single student proficient in reading. Four out of five DC students are not proficient in math and two-thirds are not proficient in reading and writing. The list goes on. Coach is far from the first person to criticize inner city schools, and the critics know that.

Can the critics really say our current education system is successful? 

As Coach said in the interview, one of the reasons he ran for office was because of his compassion for kids trapped in failing schools. As a Coach and a mentor unlocking opportunity for young people for 40 years, he watched a marked decline in our education system and found it deeply alarming. That’s why Coach is a strong supporter of school choice.

As he says in the interview, Coach worked with young people from all across this nation and from every background.

Ok, off the top may I note that continuing to call him “Coach” is just cartoonish. He is no longer a coach. Moreover, he is a United States Senator which is a more impressive and important title than “Coach.” I do understand this is partly political theater, but given my lived experience in the Deep South, I suspect that Tuberville and his staff actually do think that “Coach” is a more important title than “Senator”–a fact that underscores a lot of the ignorance on display here (as does his Senate web page).

More importantly, this is all a dodge. Whether he was talking about inner city schools in general, or Baltimore specifically, there is some serious dog-whistle racism going on here.

After all, here is “Coach” (Senator Coach? Coach Senator?) speaking to WBHM (the Birmingham NPR affiliate):

You mentioned the Biden administration trying to prevent white nationalists from being in the military. Do you believe they should allow white nationalists in the military?

Well, they call them that. I call them Americans. What happened after January the sixth—and I was here on January the sixth—we were attacked on the Senate floor. Saying all these people that came into the Capitol were extremists, they were against the country. There was a lot of people. There were probably a hundred of them that came in, broke windows and broke doors that should have been locked up. That’s not how we do it in America. But there were hundreds of thousands that didn’t come in, outside, that were true Americans that believe in this country [* Note 4]. But right after that, we, our military and Secretary Austin, put out an order to stand down and all military across the country, saying we’re going to run out the white nationalists, people that don’t believe how we believe. And that’s not how we do it in this country. We have got so much division up here that, not for the country. You know, this is not for any individual, this country. This country is for all of us. And we’re all the same. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re rich, poor, black, white. It doesn’t make any difference. Everybody’s an American, has opportunity to make this country better. We’ve made it 247 years. But I’m going to tell you what, we’re walking a tightrope right now, at how much longer this country is going to make it, as we all know it.

And even if he is just talking about Baltimore and not inner city schools in general, nothing that he said is defensible. Moreover, not only does it take some real gumption for an elected official from Alabama to cast aspersions about education, but if he is concerned about it, how about sponsoring some legislation to help? To be clear, the data do show a problem in Baltimore (and, indeed, there are some serious national problems with math and English proficiency). But the way to address that problem is not to pretend like it is simply an “inner city” problem (*wink*) and then assert that it is the fault of the teachers while stating that “I don’t know how they got degrees” and “I don’t know whether they can read and write” and then going on to question their work ethic. Teachers have hard jobs and it is simply unfair to question their work ethic.

Indeed, the notion that he is just talking about Baltimore (again, not that that makes it better) is absurd just from this clip:

But let me return to the statement above and specifically to this:

As he says in the interview, Coach worked with young people from all across this nation and from every background.

This is quite galling in a host of ways. First, Tuberville has made millions mostly due to the hard work and talents of a lot of Black amateur athletes. Second, Tuberville’s time at Auburn wasn’t exactly a cornucopia of dedication to academics.

To wit, an NYT story from 2006: Top Grades and No Class Time for Auburn Players.

A graphic popped up on James Gundlach’s television during an Auburn football game in the fall of 2004, and he could not believe his eyes. 

One of the university’s prominent football players was being honored as a scholar athlete for his work as a sociology major. Professor Gundlach, the director of the Auburn sociology department, had never had the player in class. He asked two other full-time sociology professors about the player, and they could not recall having taught him, either. 

So Professor Gundlach looked at the player’s academic files, which led him to the discovery that many Auburn athletes were receiving high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work.

Eighteen members of the 2004 Auburn football team, which went undefeated and finished No. 2 in the nation, took a combined 97 hours of the courses during their careers. The offerings, known as directed-reading courses, resemble independent study and include core subjects like statistics, theory and methods, which normally require class instruction.


“It was at that point that I figured the corruption runs the full gantlet of the administration,” Professor Gundlach said. “We were getting sociology majors graduating without taking sociology classes. I’m a director of a program putting out people who I know more than likely don’t deserve a degree.”

The whole piece is worth a read, as it details several clear violations of basic academic practices.

I will also note the following:

Auburn admitted two football players in the fall of 2004, Lorenzo Ferguson and Ulysses Alexander, who attended University High School in Miami. That school, an investigation by The Times found, gave fast and easy grades to talented athletes. Ferguson said that during his senior year at University High his grade-point average went to 2.6 from 2.0 in one month. Auburn defended their admission by saying that both players met N.C.A.A. standards. 

Once players arrive at Auburn, they tend to find themselves clustered in the same classes. 

“When you’ve got more than five or six athletes in one class, you’re guaranteed to have fun,” said Robert Johnson, a tight end who left Auburn in 2003 and now plays for the Washington Redskins. “Class is guaranteed to not be as hard as the rest of your classes, especially if you’re winning.”

The football Senator Coach at Auburn from 1999 to 2008 was Tommy Tuberville. And I know enough about the way universities and athletic programs function that Tuberville had to have operative knowledge of the above, and his staff absolutely did know where to send these students. Moreover, I know enough about college football, and SEC football in particular, to know that the quality of education the football players were receiving was not Tuberville’s first priority (indeed, it likely was not a priority at all).

Indeed, one more quote from the NYT piece is relevant:

Through a spokesman, Mr. Tuberville declined to be interviewed for this article.

But, it turns out, he is more than happy to comment on a city not in his state, not to mention “inner city” teachers in general.

In short, if Tuberville cares about education, let him use his office to prove it (better yet, perhaps he should aspire to be educated himself). Else, it is clear that all his talk about “inner city” students and teachers is just fearmongering attempts to score political points, just as were his weird ravings about Sharia law and “the cities” when he was first campaigning for office.

I would say that the state deserves better, but given that he won 60% of the vote over the far more qualified Doug Jones, I guess we have what most of us asked for.

Side note, there was also this story, which broke after Tuberville left, but the practice was almost certainly in action when he was coach (via the NY Post): Auburn kept its easy jock major, because football team needed it.

FILED UNDER: Education, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. CSK says:

    To a whole legion of Tuberville fanatics, being “Coach” is a far more impressive title and position than being a mere United States Senator. There’s simply no question about that. Senators come and go. Football coaches are forever.

  2. @CSK: As noted, I do understand that. That doesn’t make it less absurd, especially for his staff to call him that.

  3. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Oh, I know. I was just emphasizing because I find it so irksome an affection.

    I also pointed out in yesterday’s thread that I was willing to bet that Tuberville put pressure on professors to give good or at least passing grades to the football players.

  4. Andre Kenji says:

    He surely has the intelectual sophistication of a coach, not a Senator

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Tuberville took too many blows to the head in his playing days and can’t even fashion a good dog whistle.

    The whole ‘coach’ thing is weird. I can understand former players referring to him as coach, but his senate staff? I has to be that he has instructed them to do so. Lots of folks can’t let go of their athletic days. I run into a guy off and on that is in his 70’s and speak with him for more than 5 minutes and he’ll recount his days as a high school football hero. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  6. de stijl says:

    The “Coach” shit spouted by the staffer in the interview for an elected US Senator was flat-out repulsive. The repeated, conscious use makes me want to vomit.

    A coach is an absolute authority. One you dare not question (unless you are so talented that could mean a loss and in that case it is tolerated.)

    That his staff routinely refers to him as “Coach” in press interviews is beyond troubling. Who runs his office? A slack-jawed sycophant, apparently. Brush up on appropriate verbiage, please. The “senator” believes blah blah blah is way more appropriate than “Coach”.

    And it infantalizes his staff who have repeatedly use that term. It makes them look like naive idiots.

    You are a US Senator. Act like it.

  7. just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: It’s probable that he didn’t need to put pressure on professors to that end. One of the professors with whom I worked at a 2-year had been a athletic program tutor at UGA and used to regale us with the stories of how her job was to make sure student athletes passed their classes by whatever means were necessary. One of her go to practices was to make sure that her charges didn’t take any classes where pressure would need to be placed on professors.

    And I remember that while I was in grad school, there was a professor teaching a core curriculum/required class whose final exam hadn’t been altered/revised in the 20 years he’d been teaching there. Lots of jocks took that class.

  8. just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: @de stijl: Check his Senate Web Page (posted in Dr. Taylor’s comment toward the top). He’s identified himself on the heading as “Coach Tommy Tuberville.” While I don’t disagree with either of you, I will note that it is considered polite to use the names/titles/pronouns/etc. that people themselves use for identification. We should try to avoid copying the righties in asserting that people should use the identifiers that we tell them to. There are going to be court cases about this going forward. Pick a path and follow it!

  9. CSK says:

    @just nutha ignint cracker:

    No, he probably didn’t need to pressure the professors–but I wouldn’t be surprised if he subtly derided them to his players, particularly the untenured younger faculty.

    The 2006 NYTimes article cited by Dean Taylor is eye-opening. Professor Joyner also wrote an OTB piece about it.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Of the scholastic-level coaches that I’ve known personally, the number that ever even thought about the reality of working at a school could be counted on one hand. My impression is that faculty are far more aware of coaches than coaches are of faculty.

    That said, I think coaches understand the dynamic and consequences of the “are the students going to school to play sports or playing sports to go to school” question better than either faculty or most administration do.

  11. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    That’s sort of what I mean. I get the feeling that coaches in places like Alabama or Georgia or some of the big midwestern football colleges and universities the coaches have nothing but contempt for the faculty to the extent they think of them at all. Buncha egghead faggots.

  12. de stijl says:

    @just nutha ignint cracker:

    No. That’s a really poor understanding of identity and dead-naming.

    I actually know a guy named Coach. Not his real name, but what he goes by always. I always respect that and abide by that even though I now know his given first name.

    He’s Coach. That’s his name. That’s what I call him. Always.

    That is different than “Coach” Tommy Tuberville. His name is not Coach. It is a job title. Maybe an honorific if you stretch the definition. No longer a coach. “Senator” is the current operative honorific.

    How did that person get elected? He’s dumber than a stump.

  13. Michael Cain says:

    @de stijl:

    How did that person get elected? He’s dumber than a stump.

    Name recognition and the (R) behind his name.

    Since he became the senior Senator from Alabama, he’s become an outspoken advocate of the US crewed space program. Most of what he says is word salad, but he tries.

  14. de stijl says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Didn’t US Space Command get HQ’d in Birmingham during Trump’s tenure?

    I’m not even sure I got the name right. If so, I apologize.

    I can see the argument that it should be a separate service, and I also can see it should be part of the USAF. I’m neutral on the topic. Can see both sides but kinda mostly don’t care.

    I know the uniforms and regalia look dumb as shit. Gaudy Trump style crap. If you are going to create a new military service give them some dignity. They are going to face major push-back from the other services regardless. At least give them cool shit up front to ease the transition.

    Nope, they got totally boned.

  15. Michael Cain says:

    @de stijl:

    Didn’t US Space Command get HQ’d in Birmingham during Trump’s tenure?

    Trump ordered a move to Huntsville (which reportedly came in first in an official evaluation of where it should be). Some functions would remain in Colorado (geography matters). Hasn’t happened yet. The DOD wants to delay it because of possible disruption to surveillance in Ukraine. Rumor is that Biden will eventually reverse the decision to move. On another matter, Tuberville is blocking Senate approval of military promotions in the cases where that’s necessary until DOD changes their abortion policy.

  16. Michael Cain says:

    Follow on to my 18:35 comment… I for one would like to hear from any of the front pagers on the problems associated with Tuberville’s blocking promotions and/or assignment changes. My understanding is that there is, for example, no new chair of the joint chiefs until Tuberville removes his block.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl: Total tangent, but I found out recently that the quack physician who unsuccessfully treated President Garfield’s wounds after being shot was named Doctor Willard Bliss. “Doctor” was his first name, not just his title. He was Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss. This isn’t a joke.

  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Kylopod: +100