Sunday, July 02, 2017

Open Letter to University of Alabama President Stuart R. Bell Re: Megan Rondini - Donald V. Watkins 

July 2, 2017
Open Letter to University of Alabama President Stuart R. Bell
Re: Megan Rondini
Dear Dr. Bell,
As you know, Megan Rondini was a former honors student at the University. On July 1, 2015, Megan was subjected to a traumatic sexual encounter with the son of Terry J. Bunn, a prominent Tuscaloosa businessman and power player on Alabama's political scene. At the time, Megan was 20-years old and had a bright future ahead of her. That future was cut short when she committed suicide on February 26, 2016.
I understand that Terry Bunn was, and may still be, a member of the University President's Cabinet. This group's power inside the University is quite impressive. For all practical purposes, it is an invitation-only oligarchy. Members of the President's Cabinet can make good things happen for the University. They can also make bad situations go away.
Terry Bunn's son, T.J. "Sweet T" Bunn, Jr., is a real problem for you and the University. Megan Rondini filed a rape report against Sweet T fourteen days before you took office. Sweet T was a 34-year old bar regular at Innesfree Iris Pub on University Boulevard in Tuscaloosa on the night in question.
As a result of the Bunn family's status within the University and its "pillar of society" standing in the larger Tuscaloosa community, Megan got "home-cooked" in the Tuscaloosa County criminal justice system. Former district attorney Lyn Head, acting in concert with two Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office investigators, cleaned up Sweet T's messy situation for the Bunn family. Investigator Adam Jones transformed Megan from an alleged sexual assault victim into a criminal suspect solely because of the common sense actions she took in escaping from Sweet T's mansion after an unwanted sexual encounter. The way investigator Josh Hastings ingratiated himself to Sweet T during their interview session made me think Hastings was seeking a job as a security guard at the Bunn mansion.
After Megan's death, Lyn Head used the grand jury process to cover Sweet T's exposed derrière and to fumigate the stench from her failure to prosecute him in 2015. In doing so, Head compromised her integrity as a prosecutor.
This brings me to you, Dr. Bell. You are the one person who is in the best position to prevent a complete failure of justice in Megan's case. Megan took her own life because Sweet T, Adam Jones, Josh Hastings, and Lyn Head bullied, betrayed and/or failed her when she needed them the most.
When a student attends the University of Alabama, the institution's president is his/her Number One advocate and protector. Today, you are the de facto guardian for the 37,665 students who attend the University. This is true whether something terrible happens to your students on or off campus. While Megan's sexual encounter with Sweet T occurred off campus and on the watch of departing President Judy Bonner, her pursuit of justice occurred on your watch and is ongoing.
After graduating from the University's law school in 1973, I worked as an administrative assistant to legendary UA President David Mathews. He was the youngest, brightest, and most courageous president in the University's storied history. Dr. Mathews is a member of the Hall of Fame established by the UA Division of Student Life.
From my office inside the Presidential suite in the Rose Administration Building, I handled several difficult and sensitive situations in which UA students had been subjected to sexual and/or racial abuse, both on and off campus. Dr. Mathews, who is now President and CEO of the Kettering Foundation, was strong, unapologetic, and aggressive in his protection of UA students. He had a backbone of steel. No University financial donor or insider could make President Mathews look the other way in cases where his students had been abused. Without fear or favor, President Mathews always made sure the justice system functioned properly in these cases.
Sadly, I have not seen this level of courage or commitment in you after BuzzFeed News introduced Megan and her story to the world on June 22, 2017. As the University's President and the father of a daughter yourself, I expected you to do two things: (a) stand up for Megan in the criminal justice system and (b) assure female UA students like my daughter that you will do everything within your power to make sure justice prevails in Megan's case. To date, you have failed on both counts. Furthermore, the pathetic, self-serving, and disingenuous press release issued by the University on June 23rd has left many parents of female students very disappointed in you.
Megan Rondini's case will define your UA presidency one way, or the other. It is not going away. In her own way, Megan has emerged as the "Rosa Parks" of a growing movement to protect female students from sexual assaults by male predators. Sweet T has come to symbolize a Bill Cosby form of male-privilege and sexual exploitation that must be eradicated.
Dr. Bell, you are at the crossroads in Megan's case. I am hoping you have the character, courage, and commitment to do the right thing by standing up for Megan in her pursuit of justice. The world is watching you.
Donald V. Watkins

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