Saturday, July 11, 2009

Norton's job is at stake

The parallels are not to be dismissed.

Kay Norton, president of the University of Northern Colorado, was trying to save her job Friday when she took to the press-conference podium and told reporters the investigation into UNC's reaction to male sexual-harassment allegations against a UNC theater professor would be as broad and deep as it could be.

"The University of Northern Colorado has placed no limits on the investigation," Norton said in a statement posted on the UNC website.
Her quick action is a response required by law of an employer facing an allegation of sex harassment made within the workplace -- in this case a student against a professor -- but more than that, her quickly going public is a reflex to the public humiliation and resignation of former University of Colorado president Betsy Hoffman five years ago.
When Hoffman delayed responding to charges her football team and coaches were using sex and alcohol to recruit teen graduates of high schools, then-Gov. Bill Owens publicly demanded a full-bore investigation, and then put more heat on Hoffman after Ward Churchill's "little Eichmanns" essay was made widely public. The governor's public actions in each instance were taken long after the fact of the offenses he held Hoffman accountable for.
Now, I'm not suggesting that now Gov. Bill Ritter call for Norton's resignation.
Politically, such a call would parallel Owens pressure on Hoffman. Owens was Republican; Hoffman considered somewhat liberal. Ritter is a Democrat; Norton took the UNC post during Owens' administration and her husband, Tom Norton, was director of the state highway department at the time.
And Norton is going public in part to cut short such retributive political action.
That's not only a smart move politically, but probably the best move in terms of UNC's reputation among institutions of higher learning.
Allegations regarding sexual behavior are now a most public event, especially when criminal charges or the possibility of criminal charges are imminent, and even more especially when public figures or public institutions are involved. Bill Clinton, the University of Colorado, Michael Jackson, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford ..., the list of celebrity media coverage goes on and on and on and on.
Norton has been a good president of UNC, by all accounts. Her actions regarding the current firestorm are the right actions, although her institution's behavior in the past may still be found at fault and Norton held accountable for it.
That would be the "right thing to do," no matter the outcome.
As Betsy Hoffman and so many others have found out during careers over the past decade, jobs are to be held for as long as one can hold them, doing the best you can do while you do hold them. But then the economy, a sex scandal, some mistake, or a change in political fortunes comes along to muck up your performance. And the job comes to an end.
As my mother would have said: Buck up and move on.

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