Published: Nov 20, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 20, 2012 06:57 PM
I’m a UNC alumnus as well as a father of four girls. And my oldest, my first to go to college, just began her freshman year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Both schools of late have had voluminous news coverage centering on their leaders, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp and UVA President Teresa Sullivan. The UNC story has remained by and large a local one, but UVA’s has gone national. So this essay is a tale of two stories, which I've been closely following since I have a stake in both.
Buried in the UNC coverage are comments by the head of the UNC Faculty Council: how she and her colleagues were influenced by the events at UVA as they rallied around their beleaguered chancellor the way the UVA community did their president, but the two situations are fundamentally different.
Terry Sullivan did no wrong, yet was ousted in June through the cloak-and-dagger machinations of a rogue governing board influenced by a few meddling super-rich donors – with the resulting firestorm of protest among all segments of the UVA community leading to Sullivan's reinstatement as president 17 days later and her becoming a national star. The scenario was unprecedented in American higher education.
The wrong committed was the governing board’s crime of insult, whereas at UNC, the wrong was creeping corruption that had grown from the athletics department under former AD Dick Baddour to the administrative offices of South Building – the last-straw revelation being that a fundraiser, according to local columnist Barry Saunders, basically got her job through the manipulations of her boyfriend, UNC's chief fundraiser, and this was approved at the top.
The UVA story went national – it was the cover article in a September issue of the New York Times Magazine, the most prestigious patch of journalistic real estate in the country – because it was unique, and because it touched on the fundamental issue of public university governance: who all should be consulted when deciding on the fate of an academic leader.
The UNC story on the other hand, as local sports writer Caulton Tudor said, was a sad but old one. And as it unfolded in the climactic week awaiting the final word on Thorp's resignation, UNC faculty, trustees and students seemed to be trying, too hard, to recreate the UVA magic, but a careful and objective observer could see that the whole effort was hollow and misguided.
What happened at UVA was spontaneous, explosive and authentic – not a copycat of anything. It was fueled by faculty as well as by students and alumni. Yet at UNC, a large number of alumni had increasingly been calling for a change in leadership because they saw the creeping corruption as damaging the university’s reputation, and by extension, the value of their, and their sons' and daughters', degrees.
Terry Sullivan, a pioneering sociologist and UVA’s first female president, is a seasoned academic leader who has had top administrative jobs at public university powerhouses like Texas and also Michigan, where she was provost. She came to UVA as a complete outsider, and brought her number-crunching, “green visor” view to bear – as opposed to the inbred, “Carolina Blue from cradle to grave” mindset of the trustees and other leaders at UNC who groomed and handpicked one of their own, creating a coziness reluctant to crack down on wrongdoing.
Charlottesville and Chapel Hill: two towns with linked stories, with different outcomes.Duncan Shaw lives in Hillsborough.
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