Friday, October 9, 2009

A President's Responsiblity-- the SUNY Binghamton Mess

President Lois DeFleur made a devils gamble. She lost. Now everyone is losing but her. The entire ethical culture of college sports rests upon strong Presidential accountability and she embodies the exact opposite

It's the devils' bargain for a college. You're a good university but unknown, unloved and looking for visibility. The route in America? Not Noble prizes, not higher SATs and GPAs, but college sports. SUNY Binghamton is fine bucolic standout of the SUNY system, but it wasn't enough. President Lois DeFleur wanted more. As the picture demonstrates, she wants money for her campus. But she wanted more. Ignoring a faculty vote, the President moved the program to NCAA Division 1 and set out to build a winner.

The cheapest and best way to accomplish this is through college basketball (except for the South and Texas where only a football matters). 12 kids, actually 8 good ones, an aggressive coach and chance to make it to the big dance, the NCAA month long party and constant mentioning on ABC and ESPN. If it works, you get money for appearing, more visibility and higher enrollments. Gonzaga, a small decent Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington (where was that again, Spokane, I said) parlayed its teams into national notoriety. SUNY succumbed to the same siren.

You can do it right or you can do it quick. Gonzaga built up the program over two decades; SUNY did it in four years. The President and her athletic director Joe Thiro hired Kevin Broadhus a Gerry Tarkenian type coach who specialized in taking cast offs and second second chance guys.

College sports' own devil's bargain in all revenue sports is the recruitment of under prepared young men, mainly minorities from socially disorganized backgrounds, and using them to populate their football and basketball teams. The only way the system works and avoids exploitation is if the colleges invest immense effort in recruiting for character and work ethic that can help the young man navigate an educational system. They also need decent academic support to give them a chance. Without both, the system becomes exploitation and falls apart.

The Binghamton coach brought in a range of young men who needed second chances, not academic chances, but character chances. When the Faculty Athletic Representative fought the admissions, the President replaced him. When faculty remembers complained about harassment from the Coach and Athletic Director, the President ignored them. When athletes piled up arrests for assault, cocaine dealing or stealing, the President and athletic Director ignored it. After all, the team, known made it to the NCAA tournament by winning the designed for the NCAA tournament America East conference.

Now the program has imploded with scandals. The players were not supported or lead as students. The President permitted them to exist only as unregulated athletes. As misdemeanors, arrests and harassment piled up, neither she, the coach nor the Athletic director acted. Now six players have been dismissed. The AD has been thrown to the wolves (actually reassigned to the Provost's office). More is coming, but she remains unscathed. This ignores the real issue--she sponsored and abetted a program in violation of academic standards and the integrity of the university. In modern NCAA ethical standards, the President is directly held responsible for the programs.

There may be no NCAA violations but this epitomizes what the NCAA calls loss of institutional control. In this case, however, there was none to begin with. The President launched the program without the necessary academic support and safeguards and ignored all the warning signs. She wanted a winner, she wanted visibility. Well she got the winner and the visibility along with disgrace and embarrassment. She should resign.

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