Fire Dave Brandon? Not So Fast

Contra rallies in the Diag, not all of the students at the University of Michigan want Dave Brandon fired. I did not sign the petition calling for his dismissal nor did I participate in the protest calling for his termination, because both measures are imprudent, if not extreme, measures (Coach Hoke is another story).

Although the protestors’ concerns may be legitimate, the rally was fueled by raw emotions, lofty accusations, and hasty conclusions. That is, the protesters unfortunately embodied a mob mentality that figurative called for Brandon’s head. The demands were “Fire Brandon” and “Hire Harbaugh.” Our students even marched to the President’s house and demanded that he confront this large rally in a Jacobin manner.

Three complaints are central to the call to “Fire Brandon.”

First is his handling of Shane Morris’ injury. This ultimately is Coach Hoke’s fault, although Mr. Brandon has taken a brunt of the criticism. This complaint is not wrong, since Mr. Brandon is Coach Hoke’s boss and procedural tasks are part of his job description. However, Brandon admitted his leadership breakdown, and the Athletic Department has actively investigated the incident, calling for procedural alterations so that no such communication breakdowns occur again.

New standards regarding injuries are already in place – with the best interests of student-athletes in mind – and would have been done so even without the concerns of the fan base. Both the Board of Regents and the NCAA should handle any further investigations into Morris’ injury.

Second is the handling of the Brendan Gibbons case. The main accusation is that Dave Brandon covered up Brendan Gibbons’ rape of a female student. While any charge of rape must be taken with the utmost seriousness, there lacks substantial evidence behind the accusation of cover-up. While disciplined by the university, Brendan Gibbons was never formally charged with criminal proceedings. The public opinion, and not our criminal court, has convicted Brendan Gibbons of rape.

The Athletic Department not acting in a timely manner is not a basis for accusing Brandon for covering up Gibbons alleged crime. Certainly, it’s a black eye for our University that the Department took so long to respond and rid themselves of Gibbons. Yet, the bigger issue is if a public university and its administrators should really be acting as judge, jury, and executioner. That’s what our justice system is for; so let the justice system handle such cases. The burden of proof for university investigations is much lower (i.e. the preponderance of evidence rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt) and all too often administrators do not enforce due process. The disciplinary system in our university is insufficient in the standard of its proceedings.

Third is that Mr. Brandon’s policies and business procedures are ill-founded, e.g. the increasing ticket prices, low attendance, and new seating policies. These reasons legitimize criticism of Brandon, but are not sufficient to justify his firing. To criticize Brandon for handling the Athletic Department like a business seems like a cop-out — we knew he was a businessman well before he was given the role. Brandon made clear he wanted to build the Michigan brand, yet no one used this as just cause for his firing until our football team was on the brink of an embarrassing season.

Where students have gone wrong is to assume building the brand would always make them happy – it surely hasn’t; nor is it an Athletic Director’s job to make all the students happy. Yet Mr. Brandon has kept his ears open and given students what they wanted with the newest seating policy, rendering students preferences with the attention they desired. Mr. Brandon is a businessman, and not all his policies have worked. However, Mr. Brandon is also a good businessman – one who will adjust given unsuccessful policies.

For these reasons combined, students are rightly upset. But perhaps their protest has been more informed by passion than by reason (a common human error). More so, we should consider that if Mr. Brandon is to be terminated: a) we have a brand new President who, not taking away from his qualifications, has never made such a major administrative decision and is not likely to do so this early in his tenure; b), it’s an election year meaning there could be several new (and inexperienced) Regents who could be elected. Do we believe the President and Regents could competently find a better-qualified candidate (not to mention oversee the lengthy process to replace such a vital role as Athletic Director)? Specifically, our football team would likely be out of Big Ten contention for at least another three years if we were to replace both our Athletic Director and Coach. To further add to the complexities of “calling for Brandon’s head,” he was formerly a Regent, making it even more unlikely the President and Board would fire him.

A large portion of the student body, perhaps blinded by justified discontent, has not considered these reasons combined. No matter one’s opinions of who should lead the Athletic Department, prudence is in the best interest of all students, alumni, and our institution. Maybe we shouldn’t rush to rash judgment, when led by emotions, lofty accusations, and hasty conclusions.

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