The two universities aren’t that far apart – separated by about 250 miles, although their perches on opposite sides of the Appalachian mountains would make any trip seem longer.
Both are state-supported institutions, regional spokes in their respective states’ higher education systems.
And recent controversies at each seemed, at least to me, to highlight some of the challenges in higher education governance these days and, especially, to highlight the different worlds athletics and the rest of a university can inhabit.
At Morehead State University in eastern Kentucky, the issue was the men’s basketball coach’s treatment of one of his players – and the school’s response.
The university, the website Inside Higher Education reported, “suspended its basketball coach, Sean Woods, for one game, amid an uproar over an incident in a game Wednesday when he shoved a player who had fouled out, and then yelled at the player at such length and with such intensity that the player appeared near tears.”
I watched a video of the incident on YouTube, and it was not pretty. Woods shoved the player more than once, and was in his face, yelling, for several seconds. As assistant coaches guided the player toward the bench, Woods followed and continued the tirade.
I’m not a coach nor am I by any means an expert on coaching. I accept that there are many ways to motivate – or castigate – athletes. But I’m pretty sure this didn’t improve or enthuse the young man on the receiving end.
And the university’s mild response – a one-game suspension – didn’t sit well with some commentators.
Inside Higher Ed reported that ”Patrick Rishe, a Forbes columnist on the business of athletics and a professor of economics at Webster University…(called it) ‘a feeble and gutless response to a crisis that required leaders with backbone and gumption.’” Earlier, before the university had taken any action, the website cited a Rishe column that was blunt:
“’As a university professor, I would be on my butt without a job this morning if I were to treat a student in this manner for performing poorly on an exam or causing a disturbance in my class … as would any of my colleagues.’ Coaches must be held to the same ethical standards, and Coach Woods did not meet those standards Wednesday night, he wrote.”
Let’s contrast the sanctions against Wood for his physical and verbal assault with what’s happening 250 miles to the east at Appalachian State University in Boone.
Again, here’s the beginning of a story in the same day’s Inside Higher Education:
“Jammie Price, a tenured professor of sociology at Appalachian State University, was suspended from teaching in March shortly after she showed a documentary about pornography in class, spoke critically about the way colleges treat minority athletes, and announced that she was backing a campus protest that charged the university with failing to adequately investigate allegations of sexual assaults by athletes. Price was also ordered to agree to a two-year ‘professional development plan’ related to the views of administrators that she had made the classroom hostile for some students, and in particular for athletes who complained about her.”
The story went on to report that a faculty committee “found that the university had violated Price's rights to due process and that imposing sanctions on her would violate her academic freedom.”
I’m not here to defend Price’s judgment, but I am struck by the severity of the punishment over what is, arguably, an academic freedom issue.
Do we – society, not just university leaders – too quickly look the other way or at least minimize the problem when a coach – or star athlete – steps out of bounds?
Not always, certainly. But, sadly, too often.
Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. Contact him at 91-419-6678 or at email@example.com .