Monday, February 26, 2018

The University of Arizona: A Case of Sordid Sports Reflecting Dysfunctional Administration

Ethically dysfunctional organizational cultures can be found in not only for-profit corporations, but also universities—especially in those whose managements are business-oriented rather than academic. The University of Arizona is a case in point. That managerial incompetence and sheer bad judgment could exist even at the “highest” levels points to how dysfunctional organization can perpetuate itself, and be extremely hard to correct.
 On my visits there while I lived in Tucson, I witnessed and heard student-reports of an excessive campus and local police presence and even harassment on campus. I had never seen two police forces regularly patrolling a college campus. Being on campus was like being in a police state. The academic cost even in terms of academic environment was great, though it was tellingly ignored even by the “academic” administrators who looked the other way (or worse) at the passive and active aggression.
Many students and even some professors felt continually monitored by stationary police employees and police aides. One black student confided to me that she thought she was being watched because of the color of her skin. Another student reported that three campus police jeeps surrounded him because he had biked through a red light on campus. Clearly, the police managers had no sense of going over the top in terms of aggressiveness.
Even though I was not a faculty member there, I approached high-level administrators with the claim that the police presence of two police departments and police aides was over the top. The provost’s assistant was characteristically dismissive, declaring to me, “We want the police to be everywhere all the time.” The Vice President for Business Affairs’ office simply looked the other way. My sense was that the university’s administration was dysfunctional—even callous, and deeply untrustworthy. Rather than confront themselves, the administrators projected distrust outward onto others. The result: an academic police state. 
We need only examine the athletic department to get a sense of the untrustworthiness of administrators. During  January, 2018, the university fired its head football coach for having run a hostile workplace, including sexual harrassment.[1] Such aggression is in sync with the passive aggression of the university’s police force and its allies in  the administration. It is telling that the university did not  fire the athletic director even though he had failed to adequately supervise the football coach. The problem was conveniently relegated to one man; such a response would protect the administration itself and permit the weak who sought to dominate to continue to do so.
Also that January, the university fired an assistant basketball coach for having accepted $20,000 in bribes and paying a recruit to sign. In return for the money, he agreed to manipulate players (really students) to sign with a financial advisor and a runner working for an ASM Sports agent, both of  whom were arrested by the FBI.[2] The university’s highest administrators believed the head basketball coach’s claim of not having been aware of his subordinate’s illegal activities. Such believability itself should have been a red flag that something was wrong with the university’s highest adminstrators; that they did not fire the head coach for failing to adequately supervise the subordinate points to managerial incompetence beyond the athletic department.
Just a month later, the press discovered that FBI wiretaps of intercepted telephone conversations between the head basketball coach and the runner working with ASM Sports caught the coach discussing a payment of $100,000 to ensure that a player sign with the university.[3] That coach had indeed lied about not having been aware of his assistant’s illegal activities. That the athletic director and his superiors had believed him can be seen in retrospect as an instance of incredibly bad judgment. Bad judgment was also involved in the administration’s acquiescence in its police force’s passive aggression, which is so salient in a police state unnecessarily being on a college campus. Put another way, that the university’s administration, perhaps even including the board of regents, believed the head basketball coach and looked the other way on reports of the police presence being over the top (including instances of outright aggression toward faculty and students) points to bad judgment.  That the president, provost, vice presidents, police chief, and athletic director were secure in their respective positions of power nevertheless points to how a dysfunctional organization can perpetuate itself and avoid being held accountable.

For more on unethical business, see Cases of Unethical Business

1. Dan Wolken,”Arizona Fires Football Coach Rich Rodriguez,” USA Today, January 2, 2018.
2. Maark Schlabach, “FBI Wiretaps Show Sean Miller Discussed $100K Payment to Lock Recruit,” ESPN, February 25, 2018.
3. Ibid.