Posts Tagged Myles Brand

Bye, bye Brand

I believe it is time for Myles Brand to step aside and allow IU to seek new leadership. To lead effectively, University presidents must inspire confidence in those whom they are leading — the faculty, staff, alumni and students. Yet many of IU’s stakeholders no longer have confidence in Brand, creating a leadership vacuum that threatens IU to the core. It is time for Brand to go.

I came to this realization during Thanksgiving Break, when I took time to consider Brand’s behavior and the troubles at IU. It is clear he is no longer an effective leader — he is too bogged down in questions and doubts about IU’s rankings and his performance as president.

Let me make a couple of points right off the bat. First, a university does not need to be ranked one of the top institutions in the country to provide its students a top-notch education; in fact, a top ranking for a university might actually be an indicator the school is too interested in research to adequately educate its undergraduates.

Secondly, Brand’s behavior has been reprehensible, but that does not necessarily mean he’s a bad president. Many of our nation’s greatest leaders have not always conducted themselves in desirable manners — take Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton as examples.

What is at issue here is public dialogue, and it has become mired in these two subjects. Many stakeholders have become fixated on IU’s ranking and have chosen Brand as the target of blame. And Brand’s behavior has been so publicized that it is now something that needs to be discussed.

With respect to IU’s rankings: IU has fallen in the rankings, and it has called into question the quality of education provided to students here in Bloomington. Brand set out to defend Bloomington in an Oct. 2 IDS column entitled, “IU education is far from mediocre.” The headline shows Brand is governing ineffectively, and it shows he’s worried. By stepping aside, Brand can allow IU, which is far more important than any one individual, to gain breathing room from the University’s stakeholders with respect to its rankings and allow the University time to fix the problems that do exist.

And problems do exist.

Now, to Brand’s behavior: It is reprehensible. His series of meetings with trustees before firing Bob Knight were violating the spirit, if not the letter, of Indiana’s open meetings law. By having two “informal,” non-voting meetings in a row with groups of four trustees at a time, a strategy designed to skirt the law, Brand signaled he was willing to bend the rules to suit his agenda.

When Brand put Knight under a “zero-tolerance” policy, I think it was designed to eventually fire Knight. But instead of using the zero-tolerance policy as justification, Brand justified Knight’s firing by saying there was a “series” of incidents violating the spirit and the letter of the contract Knight holds with IU.

This indicates a lack of backbone in Brand’s leadership, because zero tolerance means zero tolerance, with no leniency at all. While I think Knight ought to have been fired in May and not September, zero tolerance meant he ought to have been fired the first time there was an incident, not four months later after multiple incidents, when a freshman went on television to tell his story about encountering Knight at Assembly Hall.

This behavior suggests Brand is incapable of doing his job with the confidence of the University’s faculty, staff, alumni and students, as well as taxpayers. All of them will be constantly questioning his motives and stances. As such, he is handicapped as president.

I won’t forgive him for his behavior. Brand’s presidency is tainted with scandal and slipping rankings, and the best thing for him, and for the University, is a fresh start — under new leadership.

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Finding a Common Purpose

If bad things happen in threes, IU is due for another catastrophe.

The University has already lost two prominent men in the year 2000, and neither experience has been pleasant or pretty.

The first catastrophe was the death of a man who meant much to IU — Herman B Wells. Wells defined IU. He built the University from an average state school to a world-class institution known around the world.

The second catastrophe, of course, was the firing of former coach Bob Knight. Knight defined IU to the rest of the world. Without him, it is likely IU would be a world-class school with the low profile of St. Olaf or Dartmouth, unknown outside the state.

Without either of these men, IU would be a vastly different place.

Wells, during his tenure at IU (starting in 1921), built up the University, setting a number of precedents that put IU at the forefront of higher education. As a strong supporter of the School of Music, Wells made a concerted effort to ensure IU had one of the best music schools in the world.

He also made IU a good campus, where students could live and study comfortably. For example, as University president he helped oversee the expansion of the Indiana Memorial Union. In 1957, under Wells’ leadership, the IMU remodeled the bowling alley and the Commons.

Wells also left a strong natural legacy by creating a beautiful campus. He consistently opposed cutting down trees in Dunn Woods and building over the Jordan River.

He made important strides in integrating the campus, putting African Americans and other minorities in the classrooms together with non-minority students. IU was the first University in the Big Ten to have African-American athletes because Wells thought it should be so. If we remember Wells for only one reason, it ought to be this one.

The linkage between Wells and Knight was the library. In five years, IU will no longer have the Main Library, but instead the Herman B Wells Library. It’s a fitting tribute to a man who requested money be donated to “The Herman B Wells Acquisition Fund” for the libraries instead of flowers for his memorial.

Bob Knight supported the libraries as well, making donations each year and by creating “The Bob Knight Library Endowment,” which has more than $1 million.

Ironically, Knight’s firing allowed IU to remove one more major racial barrier at IU. Mike Davis has become IU’s first black head men’s basketball coach. This is a significant step in the integration of the IU campus, and something of which Wells would be proud.

The loss of these two men was bad for the heart and soul of IU, whether you liked either one. One clearly represented the heart and soul of the University to those of us here, while the other represented the vibrant image of the University to the world. One was key in making IU a world-class institution, while the other made sure people all across the United States knew IU existed.

It is important for universities to have somebody or something to rally around or about. Everybody rallied around Wells — I remember telling my friends about the first time I was in the same room with him. Everybody rallied around Knight, debating whether he should be our basketball coach and whether he was good for the University.

To lose both of these prominent men in the same year is an unfortunate thing. It means we are left without our beloved University chancellor and an irascible general.

Right now it appears IU doesn’t really have anything to rally around. In a few months, once the furor over Knight has completely died down, we will have neither of these strong figures. We will be left looking for common ground.

It will be difficult to find: Myles Brand does not endear that same kind of support. Neither does the retiring Kenneth Gros Louis.

There doesn’t appear to be anybody who can fill the role both Knight and Wells performed so well. There are no burning issues for students on this campus to rally around or debate in a meaningful way. One can hardly call the campus parking problem, for example, a burning issue.

Until we can again find that unity in a prominent leader or on a particular issue, the IU community might be a bit aimless in its purpose and direction.

Without that sense of purpose, we are lost.

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