Last week’s announcement that Erskine Bowles is retiring as UNC System President, set off the predictable brickbats and snarky jibes from his detractors. As President & Sgt-at-Arms of Right Wing Fanatics For Erskine (RWFFE) I shall add my insightful comments to the mix. ….. The Erskine Era shows us much about ourselves and the often yucky realities of “these times”.
Yes ….. (1) Erskine Bowles is a “yellow-dog” Democrat ….. and (2) I am a “yellow-dog” Conservative. Note I did not label him a “Liberal” nor myself a Republican. Semantical wordsmithing is just part of the confusealation that goes with “living by labels” in 2010. You like “confusealation”? Use it, just give ol’ BL credit.
EB and I became personally acquainted soon after his inauguration as UNC Prez. BLBuddy and EB pal “Mark” played matchmaker. Mark sensed that beneath our public personas BL and EB were kindred bruthas from separate muthas. Mark was right. Erskine’s own words best describe evaluating someone who brings a “reputation” to the party. “I am who I am. I’ve done what I’ve done.” If I could not handle EB having been a Slick Willie confidante nor he stomach my EIB pal-ification then our friendship had less chance than Bobby Hurley does to succeed EB as UNC Prez. We cleared those hurdles right after “hello”.
In the ensuing years I have now&then offered him my right-wing perspective on various issues of the day. Occasionally he actually asks; but asking for my opinion is seldom necessary!
Just off the top of my head a few “betcha didn’t knows” …. Calling out UNC-CH Education Dept for failing to produce enough quality teachers for NC public schools ….. Establishing a convivial working relationship with NC’s Community Colleges (previously an Israeli v Palestinian street-fight over funding crumbs from the NC General Assembly) ….. Trimming the bloated admin staff (he inherited) by multiple million $$$ …… Demanding the installation of and adherence to sound business accounting principles and systems across the 16 campuses ……Having the cajones to expose and replace several QUITE inefficient chancellors (inherited) who in several cases were “criminally inefficient” …… Picking a humble chemistry doogie to become UNC’s Popular Young Chancellor ….. I could go on and on but you may only care about The Mary Easley Scandal.
UNC as a multi-campus entity has existed since 1932 with eight Presidents beginning with extreme left-wing liberal stalwart Frank Porter Graham. The current can o’ worms was formed in 1971. There have been FOUR POTUNCSs of the current entity…… Kindly Ol’ Bill Friday ….. CD “Dick” Spangler ….. Molly The Broad ….. and Erskine. Friday and Broad were career academics. Dick Spangler was a hard-line private sector boardroom gladiator. Erskine was/is “a Wall Streeter” AND a well-known political figure. …. Uh oh.
Friday, Spangler and Erskine were all North Carolinians born and bred. Molly The Broad was a academic nomad via California who, to this day, can’t tell you how many counties in NC or where Tryon Palace is ….. nor does she much care.
Significantly Erskine was the only POTUNCS to take office with a political affiliation tattooed across his forehead. For the record, Kindly Ol’ Bill Friday is every bit as politically partisan as Dean Smith and in the same extreme direction. But Erskine bore the label. From Day One 50% of NC “didn’t like him” for his Slick Willie association. Slick Willie “stink” doesn’t wash off. EB knew that going in.
Erskine is a proud graduate of “the flagship” campus in Chapel Hill. Ergo, of the remaining 50% of NC citizens who could tolerate him being a “notorious D”, many of those are affiliated with the other 15 campuses and/or simply hate everything “Chapel Hill” for assorted reasons. As much as UNC-CHers do love themselves, there is significant loathing of The Old Well Gang from Murphy To Manteo. So lets say 60% of that remaining 50% “didn’t like him” for “that”. …… see where this is going?
Roguishly handsome guys like me and Ol’ Roy, Holden, Bill Lumaye and most of you folks don’t have to deal with this …… but Erskine has never exactly been “the dashing leading man type”. God in all his wisdom, loves to zing us. Erskine Bowles is usually “the SMARTEST guy in any room” he is in ….. BUT cameras do not love the guy. Cameras, and to some degree microphones, are not Erskine’s best friends. He can “administrate” like Phil Ford could “point guard” but Mitt Romney he ain’t.
So ….. Repubs didn’t like him. ABCers didn’t like him. And when Eugene and Mildred in Hope Mills saw him on TV, they didn’t get all weak-kneed by his stage presence. Oh, and the flaming nutjobs on the 16 faculties also didn’t like him because he had spent too much time in “the private sector”. Faculty nutjobs fear “the private sector” like vampires fear crucifixes and wooden stakes.
Erskine Bowles has been “The Ideal Man For All Reasons” as POTUNCS with a support base of me, his wife Crandall, Mark, his Zeta frat buddies and, of course, 98% of everyone who actually know him personally. That said, he has laboured under the weight of more negative public perceptions than Mother Teresa applying to be a Hooters Girl.
Give ME a handful of Do-Over chips and I’ll cash’em in ASAP on 2-3 dumb career moves, a first marriage, a 1982 Cadillac that burned oil, and a gastly plaid sport coat I wore once and promptly burned.
Give EB a Do-Over and he kiboshes that Mary Easley deal the nano second he learned about it ….. which was several months AFTER it was purposely kept from him by McQueen’s Easley Weasels. Erskine weighed his options and grossly underestimated the seismic impact of that mellacious hess. Its 2010. There ain’t no do-overing permitted for high-profile public figures. UNLESS they work for Lord Obama. Erskine doesn’t.
He is retiring at 65 after 5 years in office as he clearly stated he would when he was inaugurated. There is nothing sinister afoot. There is no reason for him to apologize. He has kept the trains running on time. That’s about all anyone can do and darn few can even do that.
The UNC System is a plate of bureaucratic spaghetti teeming with small-minded pinheads awash in terminal self-importance …… just as it was when Kindly Ol’ Bill was herding those crazy cats. Just as it always will be. It is what it is.
The overseeing BOG and BOTs are, and always will be, political patronage gifts bought by/for silverspoons, snoots and every freakin’ category of PC-diversity whizbangs imaginable. Ideally a handful will have gumption as well as social status. No POTUNCS will ever change that.
His successor better be Solomon X 10. He/she must manuever within a labyrinth infested with constipated ferrets totally dedicated to opposing everything “just because”. …… He/she must be an expert political tap dancer as all funding emanates from the bilious belly of the Jones Street beast. …… He/she better be big bizness savvy to analyze a multi-billion dollar profit/loss statement with more imbedded inaccuracies than an Al Gore weather forecast. …… He/she must have a sackful of otherwise useless degrees in navel-gazing and advanced intellectual puffoonery. Otherwise 95% of on-campus employees won’t trust’em. Welcome to Erskine’s World.
PS: Mark, you were right.