ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind


Carolina, what the hell has happened to you?

I have defended you for decades, because I thought I knew what you were all about. I’ve sung the praises of public college education because it was you that rescued me, saved me from my neurasthenic, mopy, self-involved private school exceptionalism and thrust me in a dorm room with two guys from Goldsboro who saved all their tobacco spittle and got STRAIGHT A’S ALL FOUR YEARS.

Whenever someone would mention Jesse Helms and North Carolina’s ignoble past, I would tell them, sure, but you haven’t been to Chapel Hill. It’s all different there. Tired of hearing schools like Carleton being called “The Harvard of the Midwest”, I started calling Harvard the “Carolina of New England”.

And then there was Dean Smith. I’ve made lists of his basketball rules that I transfer to real life, and I know my loyalty to friends (as well as the mounting of the yearly Jartacular) owes as much to the “family” section of the “Carolina Way” as much as my crazy jack-Mormon desire to gather everybody in one place and put on road shows.

When Dean retired, he had a press conference, and kept it together until he said, “oh, the players I’ve had-” and then had to start crying. I feel the same way about the friends I have, and still have, from Carolina. It is not some random circumstance that brought them to the middle of the Appalachian Piedmont, it was the University of North Carolina – or at least, the fertile ground for amazing young people that the University attracted, like iron filings dancing around a magnet.

YET – even when I was there, it had the trappings of old-boy institutional decay. My “advisor” didn’t know who I was, the Administration was careless and didn’t care less, even the Student Health infirmary was populated by creepy doctors who should have been stripped of their licenses.

I had to fight for every drop-add, somehow I kept owing money for things I didn’t understand, and I was occasionally dismissed from offices with the kind of Orwellian “good day sir” that would have been better suited for the movie Brazil.

We all wrote Carolina’s asinine quality off as part of the charm, the still-analog holdovers from a different era. But as some point, the officiousness and the snarl – combined with decades of laurel-resting on reputation and demoralizing budget cuts foisted on North Carolina by a state government that didn’t give a damn about kids – became Carolina’s character.

Then came the scandals. The football and AFAM department revelations were fairly contained, but still disgusting. But last week’s news, about a female dean forced to underreport sexual harassment claims, as well as 64 other students filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights…

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do you honestly think I would contemplate sending my Carolina-obsessed 7-year-old daughter to a school where that could happen? A girl who has a picture of Tyler Hansborough dunking on her wall, and made me a baking-clay UNC logo for my desk when she was 5?


It’s also the anecdotal disappointments: my nephew Sam went to Carolina, but transferred after two years because he just couldn’t find the same level of friendship and humor that so many of us had. Sure, part of that is luck and circumstance, but I feel like if he’d gone in my era, we would have found him.

Tessa is – or was – on the “suggestion committee” for the Morehead Scholarship. She was sent portfolios of various high school candidates for the honor, and she spent years recommending the kind of people who made her Morehead/Carolina experience life-changing. To date, not a single recommendation of hers has been offered the scholarship, instead (and these are my words) opting for the students who appeared more religious and more likely to work for Goldman-Sachs. Finally, she stopped participating.

Which is what we’re all going to do if this has become UNC’s culture. You see this diploma on our wall?


It’s Tessa’s, because I’m still fighting with the administration about getting mine. That piece of paper up there does not sit in static permanence; it changes value as the school continues its history. Carolina’s behavior over the last few years is actually devaluing that piece of paper as we speak.

We need a woman chancellor. We need the old-boy network of rape guffaws to stop. We need to bring true weird diversity back to the school that gave us Rasheed Wallace, Billy Crudup, Adam Reed, and Chip. You administrators of The University of North Carolina, you need to understand that YOU aren’t UNC, you are merely custodians of a higher concept conceived by men greater than yourselves, men who thrust a poplar twig in the ground atop a beautiful hill, and manifested the revolutionary thought that everyone, even the least protected among us, deserved a shot at brilliance.


29 thoughts on “ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind

  1. ken

    It could be worse, your alma mater could be The University of Iowa. Iowa has always been middle of the pack athletically and academically (both in the Big 10 and nationally) but has taken a turn for the worse in the two decades since I left (Class of ’92). Only the recent addition of Nebraska has prevented Iowa from bottom-dwelling Big 10 academic status. Quick, name a famous Iowa athlete alum. Other than BJ Armstrong and a few NFL linebackers, it’s a pretty slim list. And when Ashton Kutcher is one of your shining lights academically (he was actually a Biochemical Engineering Major before he dropped out) and culturally, it’s not a good sign. OK, Diablo Cody, Tom Brokaw (didn’t graduate) and Terry O’Quinn are also alums but looming in the cellar, like that relative you try to keep a secret, is Tom Arnold.
    I look at my dad’s classmates and fraternity brothers from Iowa (Class of ’68) and it’s a long list of US Senators and Representatives, Pro Athletes, Coaches and Management and Authors. I look at my contemporaries and it’s slim pickings. Granted I’m not doing my school any favors by raising the bar professionally but who among us does?
    Frankly anytime you’re trying to sell your school as “The _____ of the ______” or a “Public Ivy”, you’re suffering from a massive inferiority complex. There are only eight Ivy League schools and while places like Stanford, M.I.T., Northwestern and University of Chicago may be on par with the Ivy League, they’ll never truly BE Ivy League.
    So, I’ll stand by my taking my collegiate affiliation off my Facebook page and stowing my Iowa flag in a closet. Being a Hawkeye ain’t what it used to be. However, my (Public) high school just won the 2012 state football title and boasts an Indy 500 winner, a leading avant garde composer, several A-List actors and more high-watt alumni than Iowa, so I’ll cling to that.

  2. killian

    *standing and clapping with Annie*
    I live here in Chapel Hill. The gentrification (city-and-campus-wide) is alarming, and I believe it starts with UNC and what Tessa has seen as the privileging of the Goldman-Sachs types over the more interesting, challenging, and individual types. Thank you for the rant. I fear UNC is turning into Duke, and that terrifies me.

  3. SS89

    I don’t know how to turn back the gentrification. Southern Village, Meadowmont, the tower behind Crooks, the new monstrosity going up across from Granville, the four lane roads into town now from all four directions whereas in our era all you had were bumpy two-lane no-shoulder roller coasters into town from all directions. Durham has way surpassed Chapel Hill in hipness and even downtown Raleigh is on significant rise (not really in hipness, yet, but in numbers) while Chapel Hill can only cling to glory days. As for the campus scandals, all I can say that I’ve had inside looks at both Duke and UNC over recent years and bureaucratic neglect and ineptness seem normal. You could argue that the dysfunction was always there, that the good-ole-boys running UNC, who also controlled the centralized journalism channels through the J-school networks that are now de-centralized, were more uniformly effective at keeping a lid on it. The bottom line for me is that the half-century-old university model for finishing our youth’s education (since the GI bill) is becoming a dinosaur. The cost is not commensurate with the value. The kids I see at UNC and Duke today are working way, way harder than we ever did, as far as I can tell, pushing themselves and pushing each other, and getting less from the effort. Over the past 25 years college tuition has risen, on average, more than twice faster than health care costs. The pressures and tensions and contradictions will continue to display themselves in myriad ways.

  4. mako shark

    Kevin in NC, you might want to spend less time listening to Dan Kane parse a single word remembered by one person at a meeting 10 years ago to create a series of articles designed to sell issues of a (thankfully) failing newspaper to gullible UNC-R fans and read the report done by an impartial former NC governor who actually read meeting minutes, interviewed those involved who agreed to be interviewed, went through tons of documents and determined that the AFAM issue was a rogue administrator and professor. I know that the N&O is banking (literally) that there is more than has been uncovered but if the NCAA, a former governor and several independent investigations can’t find it, then Dan “grubber” Kane isn’t going to find anything by using a racist, sexist, homophobic message board as his only “source”. Perhaps if NCSU alums cared as much about their school as Ian and we other UNC alums do about UNC (or frankly as much as NCSU alums care about UNC apparently) then they wouldn’t be dead last in ACC academics and their supposed world beating engineering school wouldn’t also be last among ACC engineering schools.

  5. Bud

    I’m with Joanna (howdy, btw!).
    It’s been like this for a long time and still managed to be awesome for us *in spite* of all the flaws. It was the people we met who made it magical. That, and the adventures we shared, including our common struggles against the inevitable bullshit of a major university bureaucracy. For what it’s worth, I still think UNC is better than most.
    I’m also with Annie (hey!) — standing and cheering — because it would be wonderful to actually find ways to reduce the bullshit and increase the magic. This good rant can be the start of some real good.

  6. kent

    @Ken (not Kent, that’s me) Iowa is like every other public University in a conservative state — which is to say, the Republicans mistrust and hate it for being too liberal. The University of Iowa has had it’s travails over the year but in my opinion, our biggest problem is dwindling support from the Legislature.
    I guess I never really cared one way or another about Iowa sports. In the 40+ years I’ve paid minimal attention, Iowa has always been at best respectable losers. The most memorable Iowa sporting event was the winless 1973 football season. Friends of mine did a ‘double or nothing’ bet starting with $5 on the first game that they had to call it quits when the bet got to $640, because neither of them had that kind of money.
    On the plus side, our athletic department hasn’t had any big scandals, because the scholarship program is pretty clean. NCAA sports is such a bloated, corrupt monster that the only way to compete at the top level is to either cheat, or work harder than you should have to to win honestly.
    A big problem over the years has been that since the last long term college President of quality, Sandy Boyd, we’ve had several short-timers who view Iowa as a resume-builder on their way to better jobs elsewhere. Now we have Sally Mason, who has proved to be a craven, ineffectual chair warmer who started off her career throwing long time University Administrators under the bus over an academic sexual assault scandal to save her own job. She’s so fundamentally useless that for the first time in University history, the Regents declined to renew her contract.
    So I’d say that while Iowa has the makings of greatness, those of us still associated with the University feel like it’s an institution under assault, that has drifted under uncertain leadership. Here’s hoping things will improve in the future.

  7. Jeanette

    Fought and fought and fought to get my master’s diploma from UNC. And then it finally arrived and… My name was spelled wrong. When I complained they said I would have to pay for a new one because it was my fault, not theirs. (?!)
    So I don’t have a UNC diploma on my wall either…

  8. Neva

    Hey Ian – I have three degrees from UNC and live here in Chapel Hill and totally agree with you on this. Someday I will sit with you and tell you about the interview process I went through for a major position there recently (that I rejected) but this is not the place or time, but let me just say it would add fuel to this fire for sure.
    One thing to mention is that UNC and the entire university system has been hijacked by Art Pope and I don’t see that going anywhere but badly in the next 4 years. Sad, so sad..

  9. Ian

    Ron, they say I still owe money from my last semester (in 1843) but nobody seems to know what it’s for, or who it goes to. I haven’t checked with them in 5-6 years, so maybe some new robot computer has answers.

  10. tregen

    Sometimes… as we get older and wiser, what has always been, but unknown to us, becomes obvious. We see our parents for who they really are. We see our home towns for the petty fiefdoms of small town political hacks that they are. We see our old friens as the alcoholic, workaholic, ____aholic that they are and if we are lucky, we someday get a picture of who we are ourselves. Change happens but it is mostly in our mind. Enjoy the memories and know that out there somewhere kids are having a great time.

  11. chip

    You know, most of the sports “scandal” rolled off of my back because I have become cynical about Division 1 revenue sports (although I still love the basketball Heels).
    And of course, and Kent and Ken both suggest, there has been a general decrease in support for public higher education over the last 30 years.
    But the recent allegations about underreporting sexual assault and a general dismissiveness towards sexual assault at UNC will really give me a twinge of shame about my alma mater.
    I understand that UNC is bureaucracy and like all bureaucracies, it excels at the faceless response to incentive. Under the law, colleges have to report sexual assault statistics. The incentive is to report as low a number as possible in the same way American generals needed to report high kill ratios in Vietnam. But still, for shame if UNC has hidden and minimized the rapes suffered by its’ students.
    If Melinda Manning and the students interviewed in that article are telling the truth they deserve significant restitution and the people who covered up need to get fired.

  12. ken

    Good explanation. We had a good President when I was there–Hunter Rawlings III, who bolted for Cornell–and some good bowl-bound football and decent basketball teams. While me and a lot of my classmates have done some really cool stuff post-college, I haven’t had much to be proud of in the last decade or so.
    My dad’s rightfully proud of the people Iowa graduated while he was there” Rep. Dave Bonior (D) Michigan, Gene Wilder, Alex Karras, Jim Rosborough, Jim McAndrew and Bob Gebhart. I again point to DIablo Cody and Ashton Kutcher from ‘my’ era.
    I guess I always knew it was a mediocre school with mediocre sports teams and academics, I just wanted it to prove otherwise. I mean, to be less than Michigan State and Minnesota? That hurts.

  13. Kaarin

    My own slow burn at UNC old-boyism had to do with those Morehead scholarships you mention. They were available to North Carolina residents and to students who’d attended private out-of-state prep academies, but NOT to regular old public school students like myself. I couldn’t see any good reason for a policy that struck me as fundamentally unfair. It would be fine to give it to in-state residents only — it’s a state university. But making an exception for an already privileged group just killed me. Every time I saw some Morehead friend of mine from the honors program head off to a prestigious, awesome internship for the summer, I would be heading home to work at Fashion Bug or Women’s Workout World. So I can’t say I’m surprised at Tessa’s frustration over unworthy candidates being chosen.
    But I did love it there. It’s tough to hear bad news coming out of Carolina. I want to be proud of that place.

  14. Kaarin

    P.S. I hope I haven’t ranted that rant here before. If I have, sorry about that. It’s an old fave. I also have an excellent rant about the goddamn Alumni Center being built in my favorite patch of woods on campus.

  15. chip

    Rereading my initial comment I realize I wasn’t forceful enough. If Carolina has been significantly underreporting sexual assault and making it difficult for sexual assault victims, I will feel more than a twinge of shame.
    Also, I am inclined to believe the story from the women filing the Civil Rights complaint.

  16. Caroline

    On a funnier note, Rasheed was my lunch buddy at Granville my Freshman or Sophomore year. He was a hoot. We met because I asked him all about his gold tooth. He thought I was a hoot because I’m so freakin’ WHITE.

  17. Anon

    So much of this resonates. It is a tiny part of the issue for me, but I have also bowed out of further Morehead screenings because I have *no idea* what they are looking for, apparently (and, quite frankly, all the God-rocking in the in-state applications was a bit terrifying).

  18. Lee

    Wow Ian, I know that was hard to write. I’ve been feeling that way, too, and I guess since my kindergartener has fallen in love with Duke I really have nothing to say to argue about it. I have great friends from UNC but really, probably would have done much better somewhere smaller where a teacher or advisor knew my name.
    And I didn’t have my diploma for years b/c they claimed I had an unpaid parking ticket that I refused to pay b/c I didn’t think I owed it and my mom finally couldn’t stand it, paid it, and now the diploma is in my closet on the floor behind some clothes.
    I feel sorry for Sam and am bummed his experience was such a let down. I also think that many of our friendships grew over time. Some of us are much better friends now than we were in school as we have now been through a lot together in 20 years.

  19. Ian

    Lee Lee- UNC is having a few issues, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! Carolina could be funding Al Qaeda and they’d still have the moral high ground over Dook.

  20. Lee

    Ha. But really you can’t compare a state school with a private school but having gotten past frat boys, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on. And I’m mad how I broke my right elbow (my writing arm) the first day of sophomore year and not one prof would share notes or help in any way. Nobody from administration helped, student services… They all acted like I was trying to pull something over on someone. I’m in a cast up to my shoulder the whole semester and almost sank. Chapel Hill rocked in the 80’s and I love my friends but I can’t push my kid there.

  21. Jeff martin

    Tuesday was always my favorite edition of the the DTH. I think I was in the booth behind you at Linda’s when joanna was ‘splinin things. ;) Took me until a few years ago to pay off all the stupid stuff and get mine…it is still in it’s shipping tube…says a lot I suppose.

  22. eric g

    I’ve been watching this slide into mediocrity(and worse) from afar, and my heart sinks a notch with each revelation; it does seem like the blows are coming fast and furious these days. I thought the choice of Holden Thorp as Chancellor was odd; not that age is a prerequisite for a position of authority, but he just didn’t seem to have the gravitas that the job requires. And, I guess, it turns out he didn’t. I didn’t even know about the sexual assault underreporting allegations until I read your post; this news just makes me less likely to try to find my diploma, which I never removed from its mailing package. I think it’s in my late mother’s possessions somewhere in a storage facility in New Hampshire. Where it will stay until something makes me proud enough to advertise my Carolina affiliation again. This is all so…sad.

  23. eric g

    I’ve been watching this slide into mediocrity(and worse) from afar, and my heart sinks a notch with each revelation; it does seem like the blows are coming fast and furious these days. I thought the choice of Holden Thorp as Chancellor was odd; not that age is a prerequisite for a position of authority, but he just didn’t seem to have the gravitas that the job requires. And, I guess, it turns out he didn’t. I didn’t even know about the sexual assault underreporting allegations until I read your post; this news just makes me less likely to try to find my diploma, which I never removed from its mailing package. I think it’s in my late mother’s possessions somewhere in a storage facility in New Hampshire. Where it will stay until something makes me proud enough to advertise my Carolina affiliation again. This is all so…sad.


    We don’t like to push for this option, as we know it will likely bring suffering and pain to both gay people and those around them. Wildflowers get ready to bloom below, California lilac ( Ceanothus ) and deer grass ( Muhlenbergia rigens ) fill out behind. I might come back later and have a bit more of a think about the questions that you posed. She recalled that one of Lady Gaga’s most hurtful memories came when she was purposely excluded from a party to which everyone was invited. I don’t understand how people can claim any kind of equality in the church.


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