Moeser is wrong to blame media for UNC scandals

May 21, 2013 

James Moeser, the chancellor emeritus and a professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a master at playing the organ, but now he has taken up percussion with an instrument usually preferred by losing politicians.

Instead of striking drums or cymbals, he’s banging on the media. His tune is that old favorite of the beleaguered: “They’re out to get us.”

Moeser, who led UNC-CH from 2000 to 2008, told Chapel Hill Magazine last week, “I’m really angry [about the media]. I think they target people and take pleasure in bringing people down. I think their real goal here was to remove banners from the Smith Center.”

Moeser’s wrong, obviously. If the media were any good at targeting people, they would have targeted him. His successor, Holden Thorp, took over before the scandals broke and ended up taking the heat (and the fall) for problems that festered under his predecessor. Moeser was the one who fired the likeable but underperforming alum John Bunting as football coach and decided instead to take the football program big time with the 2006 hiring of Butch Davis, a former coach at the University of Miami and of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

Davis brought in an assistant coach who ran afoul of the NCAA for linking players to agents. That brought more scrutiny that uncovered sham classes in the African studies department favored by the university’s football and basketball players. Smoke is still billowing from this situation. The Orange County district attorney is soon to report on any criminal wrongdoing, and the Secretary of State’s investigators are looking into payments to athletes.

UNC’s reputation for academic quality and aboveboard athletics has taken a hard hit. The damage has been made far worse by the failure of university leaders to admit problems and search relentlessly for where the trouble began and where it spread.

But what is Moeser angry about? Not about what happened or how it has been handled. He’s angry about what got reported. He thinks reporting that seeks to find the extent of the problems is a mean-spirited effort to strip a proud university of its greatest athletic laurels, the banners from its national men’s basketball titles.

No, it’s an attempt to do what universities also should do: Seek the truth. We appreciate Moeser’s freedom to play his own tune, but he’s hit the wrong note.