During a presentation about the state of public higher education from Hunter Rawlings, past president of the University of Iowa and Cornell University, trustees from UNC-Chapel Hill must have been feeling the urge to say, So ... whens the good news?
Now president of the Association of American Universities, which includes public and private institutions from the U.S. and Canada, Rawlings told trustees that public universities and their presidents are under fire, from coping with diminishing public resources to ideologues among some political leaders who advocate further cutbacks in public investment in their own universities.
Presidents feel those pressures, and they also deal with athletics boosters who want to run the show, and pressure to treat enrollees more like customers than students, as if a university education were a can of soup to be picked off the shelf and rung up at the register.
Rawlings, who later will examine the outcome of investigations into academic fraud and athletics scandal at UNC-CH, still thinks the trustees and their search committee will find a good candidate to succeed the resigned Holden Thorp as chancellor. Thorp, although popular with many and a gifted scholar in his field of chemistry, became caught in a whirlwind of a football program run amok, out of which an academic scandal was revealed in which athletes were given favorable treatment in some classes. His lack of experience and what he has acknowledged was an excess of trust placed in those around him were problems.
The committee includes alumni, business people and sports boosters and is chaired by trustees Chairman Wade Hargrove of Raleigh. For now, it needs to cast its eyes on administrators with substantial experience in dealing with different constituencies not just the faculty, not just the alumni and certainly not just the boosters. And underneath, there must be a toughness.