I am in receipt of your recent email complaining about UNC-Wilmington’s hiring of a new Athletic Director (AD) by the name of Kelly Landry Mehrtens. I thank you for your summary of her qualifications, which are briefly recapitulated below:
*Landry Mehrtens has never held a position with nearly as much status as her new position.
*She was an Associate AD at the University of Kansas and Women's Administrator whereas her opponents held higher positions at UNC and George Mason.
* She has never held a position in this region of the country.* She admitted that she has little knowledge of UNCW or our conference.
* She was unable to offer tangible, specific ideas on how to improve the university other than stock answers such as "building relationships."
* During the press conference she fainted at the podium while explaining her plans for the future.
I also thank you for your summary of the qualifications of Kevin McNamee the Deputy AD at George Mason (GMU). They are briefly recapitulated below:
* McNamee has been the right-hand man to Tom O'Connor (AD at GMU) for about a decade and seen their program take off under his leadership. While O'Connor dealt mostly with external affairs, McNamee dealt with most of the internal affairs the AD usually handles.
* When McNamee visited UNCW and spoke to the Seahawk Coaches, he was given a standing ovation. This simply does not happen.
* NcNamee had intimate knowledge of UNCW and of the conference making him, in your opinion, the ideal candidate.
While I do thank you for providing a list of the candidate’s qualifications (or lack thereof), I hope you will not take offense at my confession that I spent only a few seconds perusing them and not a single second verifying them. This is because such relevant qualifications are rarely considered in university hiring decisions. Let me explain.
In order for an athletic director or any college administrator to be fired (we’ll get to the hiring part next) one of two things must generally happen. First, the AD can be so incompetent that university donations begin to decline. That will always get the attention of the university president who serves no other purpose than to raise money for the university.
Second, an AD, if competent, can be fired for refusing to mask the incompetence of the university president. This happened a few years ago when our super competent AD, Peg Bradley Doppes, refused to take the blame for mistakes made by our super incompetent president Rosemary DePaolo. That set into motion a process of internal replacement which, within the university culture, is governed by a different set of considerations than external replacement.
Put simply, when an AD, or any other administrator, must be dismissed abruptly for failing to mask the incompetence of a university president the decision to replace is internal. It is also based solely on micro-politics.
By using the term “micro-politics” I mean that the decision is an unprincipled one based on psychological considerations. The over-riding psychological consideration is the university president’s confidence that the new administrator will simply follow the orders of the president in matters including, but not limited to, a willingness to take responsibility for the boss’s ineptitude.
Because internal replacement decisions are micro-political, the AD hired in this manner is not likely to lose his position for the second of the two reasons enumerated above. Almost always, he loses his job because he is hopelessly incompetent. That was certainly the case with our previous AD Mike Cappacio.
When the internal hire Mike Cappacio (hired because he was perceived as willing to mask Rosemary DePaolo’s incompetence better than his predecessor Peg Bradley Doppes) had to be fired for actual incompetence, this resulted in an external search. External searches for college administrators are always based on macro-politics.
By using the term “macro-politics” I mean that the decision is an unprincipled one based on sociological considerations. The over-riding sociological considerations are gender, race, and sexual orientation.
In this case, of course, Landry Mehrtens was at a distinct advantage because she is a black female. She immediately had a two to nothing lead over McNamee who has the great misfortune of being a white male. So, upon his arrival for the interview, McNamee had only one way to – at least, partially - “catch up” with Landry Mehrtens.
Only by claiming that he is a homosexual could McNamee have made this decision difficult for the DePaolo administration. But, unfortunately for him, he is straight. On second thought, he could have qualified for the job by a) getting a sex change and, b) continuing to be “oriented” towards women. This would even the score to Mehrtens two (black and female), McNamee two (female and homosexual). The tie would have then been broken by relevant considerations. In such a scenario, McNamee would win.
I your letter you also questioned why Mehrtens was even called for an interview when, in your opinion, the other candidates were so much more qualified. This decision was inevitable because the previous AD was a straight white male. You misspoke when you claimed that a straight white male doesn’t have a chance of getting hired these days. Actually, the rule at universities is that straight white males can, in fact, be hired but that the same position cannot be filled by a straight white male if its previous occupant was also a straight white male. In other words, the situation is not quite as bleak as you have portrayed it to be.
Let me conclude by saying that, angry as you are about this decision, you should not let it get you down. Angry white heterosexual males will not have to tolerate unqualified minority candidates much longer. With separate black graduations, African-American Centers, and minority achievement awards, we are headed back to the good old days of complete racial segregation at UNCW.
Before long, half of our campus will be called UNC-W (White) and the other half will be called UNC-B (Black). I’m hope and pray that McNamee will agree to another interview when the UNC-White position becomes available. I guess you could say that I have a dream.