When James Taylor sang, “In my mind, I’m going to Carolina,” I knew where he was going. I knew where I was going – to the large oaks and poplars, the steps of Wilson Library, the Bell Tower, the inspired classroom and, unapologetically, the Dean Dome and Kenan Stadium.
In the past, wherever I traveled, when I mentioned that I went to school at Carolina, I received positive replies that usually began with “excellent school” and ended with “gorgeous campus.” Some replies were based on facts and experience while many were just impressions. Those introductions were an invaluable beginning to friendships as well as to many business and professional relationships.
At the University of Florida, a fellow faculty member shared, “Florida wants to be like the University of Georgia, and the University of Georgia wants to be like UNC-CH.” It made me wonder who or what UNC-Chapel Hill wanted to be like.
At the University of Pennsylvania, a prominent faculty member walked into my office and exclaimed, “My daughter just got in to Carolina, and she is so excited!” He himself levitated off the floor.
Now when my mind goes to Carolina, it gets lost on the way. I no longer recognize the “spirit” of the school, and neither do new friends and acquaintances. The cumulative actions of UNC-CH leaders represent the opposite of open, honest, purposeful integrity required to build and maintain a premier academic institution. UNC-CH leaders seem to be in the hands of “handlers” – as in contracted lawyers and public relation firms.
And regardless of intentions, it is now clear that UNC-CH leaders underestimate the power of impressions and appearances. I stood in my driveway, unwrapping and scanning the newspaper, and wanted to cry out when I read that UNC-CH has hired yet another $950-an-hour law firm without a cost ceiling to be paid for from development funds made up of donations to UNC from people like you and me. And we thought we were feeding students and helping them with tuition and the cost of textbooks?
And then in the Sports section, I read that the football program hired a defensive coach with a murky and questionable past – vetted, yes, but remember the power of appearances.
Halfway up my drive, I stopped and asked out loud, “Is anyone in charge? For God’s sake, is anyone charge?”
To those who rationalize this dysfunction by saying, “I do not envy being a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill administrator these days,” I would respond both from mind and heart that I cannot think of a more satisfying and significant contribution a person could make to the state, nation and world than to be a Carolina leader – to grow and maintain the hearts and minds of our daughters and sons.
And if UNC-CH leaders think these are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures, I would suggest that they take the UNC-CH course on the history of North Carolina. (I have a rib that remembers when a National Guardsman whose squad was trying to move protesting Carolina students away from Lenoir Hall during the Vietnam era “nudged” me with the butt of his rifle when I was just trying to go to English 101.)
And now that I read that Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, has been dismissed by the Board of Governors by those lacking the courage to explain the reasons behind their decision – by those who disrespected the intelligence of the people of North Carolina by being dishonest hoping that no one was paying attention – my positive memories of Carolina erode further.
If the University of Florida wants to be like the University of Georgia, does the University of Georgia still want to be like UNC-Chapel Hill? And who and what does UNC-CH want to be?
It is time to take back UNC-CH before the handlers and the anti-intellectual politicians have Frank Porter Graham and Bill Friday pleading from the heavens, “Is anyone in charge? For God’s sake, is anyone in charge?”
Wallace McLendon of Chapel Hill is a retired librarian who holds a BA in English (’71) and an MSLS from the School of Information and Library Science (’76) from UNC-Chapel Hill.