Put out an APB for leaders, stat

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In a recent Daily Tar Heel (DTH) article about the fallout from the Wainstein report, UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham was quoted as saying: “At some point we’ve got to move forward. And I think we’re to that point.”

As part of our continuing series, “Why we can’t move forward,” we present another reason UNC-Chapel Hill is only treading water when it calls on everyone to help the flagship “move forward.”

Reason #6 UNC’s leadership has gone AWOL.

What the DTH recently said about the University’s “weak-kneed” response to the Tom Ross situation applies equally well to the entire athletic-academic scandal. First, administrators ran for cover (or actually helped to cover); more recently, administrators have decided to farm out responsibility for openness and accountability to PR firms and lawyers. Rick White–a newly hired associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs–has become the most visible spokesperson for the University, even when the institution is being challenged on fundamental academic issues that would seem to be in the wheelhouse of the Chancellor or the Provost. Where is the will to lead? At the Faculty Council meeting that immediately followed the release of the Wainstein report, the Chancellor was asked by Political Science professor Frank Baumgartner if UNC would now seek to provide leadership in the national movement for athletic reform. The Chancellor evaded the question and asserted that the University “needs to do a better job publicizing reforms” already in place on our own campus. Inspiring words indeed.

Have the faculty been any better? As the DTH put it when describing the Tom Ross affair, “Despite some bluster from segments of the faculty, as a collective, they have done little.” This conforms to a pattern. For four long years the faculty should have pushed administrators to investigate vigorously an athletic scandal whose lineaments were clearly visible already in 2010; they chose, instead, to act as cheerleaders for the administrative team and to shush the few dissenters who demanded strong action. When the Chair of the Faculty was exposed as a water-carrier for the athletic department in the summer of 2013, the Faculty Executive Committee rushed out a full-throated endorsement of her “integrity,” thus letting critics know that aggressive questioning on the floor of Faculty Council would not be tolerated. Faculty Council even refused to endorse, in March 2013, a call for further public discussion about the scandal. A faculty that cannot summon the stomach for a difficult discussion is a faculty that has lost its collective way.

The theory and practice of “shared governance” between faculty, administrators, and governing boards lie in shambles at UNC-Chapel Hill, and as a result the flagship becomes more and more rudderless with each passing month. “Moving forward” without a rudder leads only to endless circling. Please–someone, anyone, find us a leader.

 

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