Amanda Braun is not a racist

Never before did I think I’d be writing a headline to a post on my blog. The idea that an athletic director could be called into question about whether or not they are a racist is insane.

Yet, the questions are there. The fact is, the firing of Rob Jeter and his staff leaves the university with only two employees of color in the athletic department – one of whom, the universally beloved DeeDee Merritt, was given a non-renewal this winter and will no longer be an employee of the university when her contract runs out this summer.

This caused state senator Lena Taylor, a UWM alum and longtime supporter of the basketball program, to show up at Amanda Braun’s press conference proclaiming race was a factor in the decision to fire Jeter.

The situation went from tense to powder keg in no time.

It is interesting, isn’t it? UWM is a school with almost 40% of the black enrollment in the entire UW System. It has almost 30% of the Latino enrollment in the entire UW System. You would think athletics, a department with a high minority student population, would have more representatives of color in management positions in the program.

The whole thing has left Braun with egg on her face; something that had never been brought up as a problem before is all of a sudden an unintended consequence of removing the Jeter staff and Merritt. Other black employees have left the department in recent years and been replaced by white successors.

Was Braun trying to replace black employees with white employees?

No, of course not. I don’t believe for one second that Braun has an agenda that has to do with race in any way, shape or form. I believe that Braun has tried to hire the best people for every job opening that has come to pass under her supervision. She hired people not based on their race, but because she believed them to be the best people for those jobs. As a member of a minority group herself, I doubt that she ever thought race would be an issue in hiring employees.

It’s one thing when you’re talking about hiring a member of the academic support staff. It’s another thing entirely when the coaching staff you’re replacing was 5/6ths black. When that comes after another long-term, prominent, venerated black employee is forced out, the red flags start to go up.

Race is a sensitive subject in America – as it has always been – and the athletic director at a Division I school, especially this Division I school, needs to be cognizant of these things. Braun was completely taken aback by Taylor’s accusations, which shows she had not even considered the ramifications of her decision to fire Jeter and his staff. That’s not what you want from someone representing the most colorful UW institution as the head of its athletics program.

On the other side of the coin, I think people who are railing against Braun need to take a step back and realize that the race discussion is not doing them any favors. Plenty of people out there immediately plug their ears whenever race is brought up in a situation like this, and you don’t need me to tell you it’s very hard for someone to hear what you’re saying when they have fingers in their ears.

Taylor knows this; in her appearance on the Bill Michaels Show on April 5th, she moved past the racial talk to get to the meat right away. It would behoove the rest of us to follow her lead. Race wasn’t part of Braun’s decision-making, it’s everything else that is causing all this uproar.

Braun actively ignored calls for help on the basketball program. Finding them a temporary space before the practice facility was approved has not been on her list of concerns despite the fact that when she started the job, the practice facility was at least four years down the road from opening its doors. She lied, repeatedly, to major donors, parents of players, players themselves. Her reasons for firing the coach, and not participating in the postseason, were proven to be false or called into question almost immediately. She has run off multiple donors near the top of the program, including the biggest donor.

David Nicholas’ departure was embarrassing and public. A supporter of Braun pointed out to me that of the $1 million of donations and pledges in 2015, Nicholas doesn’t account for a big piece of the pie. Well, I’m a UWM alumni – so the $50,000 or so annually to athletics is a big loss, to be sure, but a much bigger loss is the much larger donations he has given to academics at the university. Lubar Hall’s $2.5 million lab was funded by a donation from David Nicholas. Are his donations to academics not important either? Braun ran him out of town.

To be clear, Nicholas is not a Jeter puppet. He has been a courtside season-ticket holder and donor for the program since Bruce Pearl was head coach, so it’s not like he’s some Johnny-come-lately.

I’m also interested in that $1 million number. It’s big, the biggest number we’ve ever seen at UWM. My question is this: if it’s truly $1 million, why is it always talked about as donations and pledges? If there are pledges at the end of 2015 and they haven’t been paid, shouldn’t those pledges roll over to 2016 and the donations should stand on their own? What are the numbers without donations?

What are these numbers without pledges?

What are these numbers without pledges?

Yet this number is supposed to be proof that all is well. We don’t know the full ramifications to donations; it wasn’t until recent weeks that Braun forever alienated our biggest donor as well as others.

These are all very important problems. Race is important too, but only insomuch as you want to make sure your hiring process includes minorities, and that you need to fill some positions with minorities over time or you’re going to get these questions.

She’s currently nearing the end of her process in hiring the next coach. I don’t know who the man will be, or whether he’s going to be black or white. I only hope the next coach is the best one for the job, regardless of race.

I just don’t trust Braun to make the hire. The book hasn’t been written on Troy Fabiano, Braun’s only head coaching hire thus far. But the fact that she passed on David Nikolic – one of the most obvious choices an AD could have ever made for an opening at head coach in any sport we play – tells me that I can’t trust her to make the decision in a much more important opening with no clear-cut best choice. If I am to take her at her word, that Nikolic “wasn’t ready,” then I can’t in good conscience trust her with the job of hiring Rob Jeter’s successor.

I’m not the only one. When Bo Ryan, Bruce Pearl and Rob Jeter were hired, UWM didn’t hire an expensive search firm or create a formal Search and Screen Committee. Bud Haidet made the decision on his own, with an informal committee to perform the background checks – for Jeter’s hiring it was just Kevin O’Connor, Levar Ridgeway and Chuck Lang. Chancellor Mark Mone hired Parker Search and put together a big search and screen committee, of which Braun is not the chair but just a member.

Whoever the next coach is, their race should be irrelevant when compared to whether or not they’re the best person for the job. I hope that Braun will rise above recent criticism and make the best choice. I just don’t trust her to do so. If I had to put it simply, I’d say she “isn’t ready.”

Amanda Braun is not racist. She’s just incompetent.

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