According to Beth Bragg at the Anchorage Daily News, the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, who are meeting in Fairbanks this week, weren’t happy with UAA’s “communication” strategy as it dealt with recent “nastiness” involving the school’s athletic programs.
As many in the community know by now, and very few university leaders seem to care, such nastiness involved a coach hitting a student with a hockey stick in 2011. Here’s how one of many witnesses Mike Spencer described the incident:
“Head Coach Dave Shyiak forcefully struck player Nick Haddad with a hockey stick in a baseball-style swing across the mid-section because Nick messed up in a practice drill. This was not a typical slash that sometimes occurs in hockey. It was hard and it was violent…The next day, on Wednesday January 12, 2011 Coach Shyiak conducted a team meeting in the locker room and instructed team members not to speak about the incident. In more specific words, Shyiak told the team to reply, ‘No comment, we were preparing for this weekend and things can get intense, it was nothing out of the ordinary,’ if asked about the assault.”
The coach’s boss, the recently fired athletic director Steve Cobb, found out about the incident, washed his hands of it and conveniently turned it over to another university staffer, who didn’t even talk to the coach or to Haddadd before he washed his hands of it and called it a day.
The problem for the university is that enough people witnessed the incident and knew about it that it refused to go away.
Cobb was fired recently. He wasn’t fired because he turned a blind eye to a coach accused of hitting a kid “baseball style” with a hockey stick. Cobb was fired because Gov. Sean Parnell wrote a letter subtly telling the university president that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated under his watch and urged him to “take a stand.”
Apparently UAA Chancellor Tom Case doesn’t understand what taking a stand means. He said that Cobb was fired because “despite his efforts, Steve will not be able to bring all elements of the public together in support of UAA, and that criticism of Steve has become a distraction from the great work that UAA does every day,” Case wrote.
Here’s the message to parents: If you want to put your kids in the hands of our university, you should know that coaches, staff, and presumably teachers can hit your kid and we’ll only take action if it becomes a “distraction.”
Our motto: Spare the rod, spoil the child, until enough people take note.
According to news reports, the regents didn’t exactly hold Case’s feet to the fire and only seemed to perpetuate the notion that this behavior would have been acceptable had it not received public attention.
Anchorage Regent Gloria O’Neill, who I know was incensed over this matter, was quoted as saying that the event was unfortunate because “it was so public…As you think forward, what kind of communication strategy (can you) employ in the future … so this nastiness does not have to play out in the community?” she asked Case.
Case’s reply: “We were communicating what we were doing; there were just those who did not like what we were doing.”
Yes. They were doing nothing. They were saying nothing. And they were hearing nothing. And they would continue until enough members of the community, or as Cobb called them, “scoundrels,” told them that that was unacceptable.
If there’s one lesson that the board of regents and the university might take away from the nastiness is this: there’s no “communications strategy” that will allow any company, any institution or any person to get away with avoiding doing the right thing.
Here’s the right thing: tell the public that violence is wrong, will not be tolerated in the university system and that anybody—coach, student, teacher, janitor—who engages in that violence will be terminated immediately.
And tell the public that university employees who cover for those who engage in such violence, and those who covered for them in the past, will also be forced out of their cushy, post-military career jobs.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org