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Hoyt Harwell
Seattle Times
February 3, 1993

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - For decades, the way into student government at the University of Alabama has been the Machine, a shadowy collection of white fraternities and sororities highly effective at getting its people elected.

Even a leader-to-be like George Wallace was no match for it. Wallace, the four-time governor and presidential candidate, ran for a student post in the 1930s without Machine backing and lost.

But after a non-Machine candidate for student president reported being beaten and slashed and a cross was burned outside her house, administrators shut down the student government.

While school officials say there's no proof the Machine is to blame and leaders of the coalition deny any role, administrators and students say it's time to start over.

Minda Riley, a non-Machine candidate for president of the Student Government Association, reported that a man entered her home Sunday night, bruised her cheek, split her lip, cut her face with a knife and told her she was allied with the wrong people.


Two months earlier, a cross was burned on the lawn of the white student's off-campus house, and threatening notes with the phrase "machine rules" were put in her mailbox and on her door.

This week, the university suspended campus elections scheduled for next week.

"Reform of student government on this campus has my full support," school President Roger Sayers said yesterday.

Riley and her supporters met with Sayers yesterday and urged him to allow elections as scheduled.

"Let me run, let me win and let me make some changes," Riley said.

Sayers was not persuaded, however.

Harry Knopke, vice president for student affairs, said that for several months, a number of people have made allegations of threats. Although some blame the Machine, a coalition of members of 27 fraternities and sororities, Knopke stopped short of that.


The Machine-backed candidate for student president, Neil Duthie, said he had no part in the alleged attack and does not believe the Machine was responsible. "I think it's really horrible it happened," he said.

Riley belongs to Phi Mu sorority, one of 48 Greek organizations at Alabama and one of those that make up the Machine. But the Machine endorsed Duthie, a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Only about 15 percent of the more than 18,000 students have voted in recent elections, Knopke said, and 41 of 78 SGA posts this year were either unopposed or had no candidates.