Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Take Out the Prexy

Not that the rapid firing of the Rutgers basketball coach was a surprise once the conclusively  incriminating--ah, the legal influence persists, but more on that later--video went viral, as they now say, but with the fairly speedy subsequent ousting of the athletic director, attention should now focus on the justly-maligned President, Barchi.  

Apparently he had already alienated the faculty by dint of his appointment and efforts to effectuate the cost-cutting campaign envisaged by the overrated Gov. Chris Christie. But lawyers especially should have seen through the main smokescreen he threw up that the university was obliged to pay the departing coach his $100K bonus because Rice wasn't fired for cause. I've dealt with public-sector personnel processes enough to know how arcane they can be and frustrate the most well-intentioned manager.  But if you can't say that firing a coach for striking players and aiming basketballs at them clearly seeking impact was for cause, well, what can you fire him for?

This statement was not challenged by anyone I could notice.  Barchi openly based his outrageous position on advice provided by legal counsel. Those lawyers should be hung out to dry because it was an attempt to provide what today has become the ultimate cover for bad behavior: we had to do it under contract. 

Of course, sanctity of contract remains more than a legal maxim--it's close to holy writ for our Supreme Court, among others. And institutions which enter into dumb contracts deserve to pay the price.  Yesterday, for example, the Justice Department was told by an arbitrator that it had failed to follow proper procedures in slapping the wrists of the prosecutors who witheld evidence in the Ted Stevens case.  You will recall that Attorney General Holder had to move to dismiss the case post-conviction and posthumously in the case in Stevens because of these missteps.  The Department had been dissatisfied with a review by a line attorney--required by the rules--so they had a more pliable upper-level manager re-review the matter and reinstate the ordered discipline, which was quite modest in any event. They lost before the arbitrator because he rightly held that they had violated their own procedures.

When I was heading a court office, we caught an employee processing phony vouchers.  Of course, when dealing with someone in a fiscal position, we wanted to fire her. I had to restrain the then-chief judge from doing just that--by court order, of course--because I knew that the employee would be reinstated by an arbitrator or other review panel.  Eventually the employee quit, recognizing that ultimately she would be ousted for cause. So it's not always simple, direct, or easy to get rid of someone who has clearly violated relevant and important rules. And it's absolutely right that those in charge must pay attention to the rules and follow the proper procedures.

That said--Barchi and his counsel should be fired just for presenting the situation so wrongly and for attempting to place the focus on their being constrained by rules instead of their ignoring the whistle-blower and his information until the world got to see the video evidence. They wanted to be in the Big Ten and some coach flipping basketballs at players wasn't going to stop them. Instead, they are now trying to sic the FBI on the whistle-blower for extortion, having trumped up a case to fire him instead of the offending coach. 

Compared to this coach and these administrators, Joe Paterno at least did what he thought he was required to do by the rules as he knew them: report the complaint to those in authority above him. Yes, it turned out not to have been enough under all the circumstances but at least he was doing what he knew he had to do.  Rutgers clearly learned nothing from the Penn State debacle and is digging itself ever deeper into ignominy.

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