Sunday, September 16, 2012
What Goes Around …
The News & Observer continues to dredge up ugly stories from Chapel Hill, everything from football players receiving improper benefits to a former agent on the football coaching staff to academic fraud to administrative malfeasance. People keep asking me what the folks at NC State think about all this. I left NC State seven months ago, wasn’t paid to speak for anyone at NC State when I was there, and don’t profess to speak for anyone but myself now. I do believe, however, that my thoughts are pretty commonplace in West Raleigh.
People who work in college athletics are usually pretty reluctant to wish these kinds of scandals on other schools. This kind of stuff can happen anywhere, and what goes around comes around. It’s been a few years, but NC State has had its share of ugly headlines in the local newspapers. With that said, however, it’s hard not to take some small measure of satisfaction in seeing the N&O’s investigative bulldogs pawing through the dirty laundry in Chapel Hill and airing it for public consumption. At some time or another, we’ve all had to deal with some condescending, sanctimonious North Carolina fan telling us how they do everything the right way in Chapel Hill and how Carolina is such a superior academic university, like an Ivy League school. The unspoken implication in that first assertion is that your school doesn’t do things the right way. The message in the second is that your school's student bookstore specializes in coloring books and crayons.
The News & Observer has now blown huge holes in both of these canards. Apparently they do a good number of things wrong in Chapel Hill and probably have for some time. No one does everything right. When players go to parties paid for by agents and then brag about it on their Facebook page, that’s wrong (and unbelievably stupid). When student-athletes are steered into classes, all in the same curriculum, in which they don’t have to do any academic work to get a passing grade, that’s wrong. When a university-paid tutor writes terms papers for multiple football players, that’s wrong. When a vice chancellor hires a basketball player’s mom to a fundraising job and then travels around the country with her, carrying on a romantic relationship on the public dime, that is so not right.
As for UNC’s academic purity, a close friend of mine, a retired professor at NC State, has the perfect rejoinder for overzealous North Carolina grads who brag too hard about the school’s academic reputation. “It’s another fine state institution,” my friend says. The point is simple and direct. Stop pretending you’re something you’re not. Be happy for what you are. You’re not private. You’re a state university, a damned good one, but a state university nonetheless. You’re not Harvard. You’re not Duke. And you can make a pretty good argument that, as public universities go, you’re not Virginia, California or Michigan, either. North Carolina is a great school and a great bargain for in-state residents. You’ll get no arguments from me about that. But a state university by any other name is still a state university. Embrace what you are and stop being so damned pretentious.
Americans are generally a pretty forgiving lot, or used to be, anyway. We’re all human and imperfect, and we forgive those traits in others. We believe in second chances. When the imperfect human claims perfection, however, especially when he likes to lord it over the rest of us, that we won’t forgive. And when that person, or institution in this case, is brought down by its own arrogance and hubris, we tend to find that more than a little satisfying.
And that, I believe, is how a lot of people at NC State (and lots of other schools in the area) feel about what’s happening to the folks in Chapel Hill. At North Carolina, they’re finding out the hard way that what goes around really does come around.