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.