by Kent Sterling
You have to hand it to those who work at the University of North Carolina. They are a moralistic bunch, even if the coaches hired to lead the student athletes there are lacking in that area.
Jack Halperin has tutored student-athletes at UNC for 23 years, but decided enough was enough when it appeared to him that men’s basketball coach Roy Williams made an irresponsible decision in allowing P.J. Hairston to stay on the team despite a series of poor decisions with minor legal consequences over the past year.
The Daily Tar Heel printed a letter from Halperin that succinctly airs his grievance:
TO THE EDITOR:
Roy, after 23 years as an academic tutor, and after going through the devastating football scandal, I am resigning in protest of your disgraceful decision to allow P.J. Hairston to remain on the team.
If I were arrested driving with no license, illegal drugs and a gun in a felon’s car, my employment at this University would end immediately.
Hairston’s DTH headline quote was, “I will play this season.” Since when does the criminal decide his fate?
Athletic academic tutor
There are few things as sure as the axiom that the only thing that gets coaches fired is losing, and after last season, Williams needs a gun full of bullets to rebound from a 25-11 campaign that saw the eight-seeded Tar Heels bow out of the NCAA Tournament in the round of 32.
In 2009-2010, Williams led UNC to a comparatively miserable 20-17 record and an NIT berth.
With Hairston, Williams might have a squad talented enough to win a national championship. Without him, they would still be good, but not potentially elite.
When it comes to getting paid, Vince Lombardi was right when he said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” That is certainly not lost on Williams, whose handling of Hairston, whose decision making has revealed him to be a short-sighted and self-indulgent mope, has been lenient. If the pot, gun, and rental car provided by a felon/booster named Fats Thomas didn’t belong to him, they belonged to someone close, and that shows sufficient idiocy for removal.
Maybe Williams is punishing Hairston with significant extra work, maybe not. But the very public resignation of a tutor who has devoted his energies to helping kids learn/stay eligible for 23 years doesn’t tell a very compelling story in Williams defense.
Mary Willingham,the assistant director of the center for student success and academic counseling at UNC, has also been very public in her critique of UNC’s decision to protect itself than to bring consequences to bear upon those who mistake their university for an athletic factory. In June, she wrote:
Protecting our (UNC’s) image has become the most important factor, sadly, this appears to have done more harm than good. As an institution of higher education where learning should be taking place each and every day, what is the lesson in all of this? Yesterday was the lowest day on campus – ever. As yet another new bright eyed group of first year students meet up in the pit, we, the adults continue to cover up the truth about our mistakes. One dark cloud hangs in the otherwise blue sky, and we could make it go away – if we were honest.
Educational inequality is fed by a machine on our campus and campuses everywhere – the college sport system – until we own it and make the proper adjustments, the cheating will continue. Waiting for the NCAA is a joke, the sky over Indianapolis is full of dark clouds, thunder and lightening. They have failed miserably as a regulatory body. Bogus systems of eligibility along with secrets, silence and our own vulnerabilities win, our students lose. Protecting the brand at all costs – worth it? Lesson learned? Not yet.
It’s people like Halperin and Willingham that set a great example, and give students and alums a reason to remain proud of the University of North Carolina.