The UNC Educational Foundation has been in the news for paying $990 an hour for a New York law firm to defend the university against charges that graduates received phony degrees. The foundation also spent at least $100,000 on another project that may interest the taxpayers of North Carolina. It ran a full-page ad in The New York Times’ Week in Review. (The estimate of $100,000 comes from a NYT article).
The ostensible subject of the ad was the late former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith. The top of the ad carried a quote from Smith, “There is a point in every contest when sitting on the sidelines is not an option.” Next came a photo of Smith. Below the photo appeared several accolades for this much-beloved figure: “Teacher. Innovator. Humanitarian. Coach.” The cost was at least $5,000 per word.
The memory of Smith is worth that much – or more. But would he ever have wished this money be spent on an out-of-state newspaper ad for the purpose of distracting attention from the university’s malfeasance? If some students were encouraged to take phony courses and got phony degrees – especially students playing varsity basketball – would Smith have wanted the university to spend tens of thousands honoring him, or any other coach, and not compensating them instead?
As the ad said, Smith was a teacher. What teacher would want that for his students or for his school? Some of these defrauded students are black. Smith was, as the ad said, a humanitarian, a man with a conscience as well as an enviable record. Would he want money spent to draw away attention from the wrong done to these students?
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It is not just a matter of money. Honor and decency matter also. Smith was an honorable and decent man. He remarked, “Bad leaders destroy their followers’ sense of commitment.” By spending the people’s money on ads like this, the university’s leaders are sadly illustrating this truth.
Fred S. Naiden
Professor of History, UNC-CH
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