Rating UM President Shirley Raines

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Shirley_Raines.jpg
University of Memphis President Dr. Shirley Raines is leaving in June. I was only on the campus a dozen or so times during her years, and often as not it was for a press conference involving football or basketball or the athletic director. So I did not follow her career first hand, but I disagree with those who are saying her biggest failing was the on-campus stadium issue.

Tellingly, it was former Mayor Willie Herenton who first broached the idea of a new stadium, in a surprise announcement during a press conference on New Year's Day that wasn't even staffed by the daily paper. At no time after that do I remember the university's A-List donors to the athletic department publicly clamoring for a new stadium to be built on campus or anywhere else. Rather, there was support, admittedly tepid, for keeping the home field in the Liberty Bowl Stadium and fixing it up. If Mike Rose, Fred Smith, and Brad Martin had joined Harold Byrd in his call for a new stadium then Raines would have signed on too, I believe. Instead she threw it to a committee. Big deal, that is pretty standard procedure.

The biggest disgrace of the last 12 years was the Derrick Rose entrance exam farce. All he had to do was give a sample of his handwriting, which he refused to do, to clear up the matter. So the university athletic department leadership and administration including Raines backed Rose's sham play and jumped on the NCAA and the testing services. Rose was soon gone, with John Calipari following, and the NCAA sanctions at about the same time. The administration's response should have been, "Young man, make what choices you must, but if you are part of this university know that we will in no way be complicit in any shenanigans or cover-up involving your entrance tests."

My visits to the university for academic affairs were few and far between, but I always thought the campus looked very nice and I would have been proud to have sent my children to school there if that had been their desire. Dr. Raines has a couple more months before she leaves, and it isn't realistic to expect current faculty and staff to objectively evaluate her years. So I asked my friend Bob Levey, the former Washington Post columnist who held the Hardin Chair of Excellence in Journalism, for his thoughts. This is what he wrote.

“During Shirley Raines’s ten years as president, The University of Memphis could have slid toward becoming a community college. The deck was totally stacked. UM didn’t have the right friends in Nashville. It didn’t do as well as it might have in fundraising. And its students didn’t seek the liberal arts curriculum as much as they should have. President Raines fought valiantly—and quite successfully—against all three of those problems. She shored up departments like art, journalism and history when so many were saying that they didn’t produce jobs (they have, they do, they will). Besides, she steadied the ship during a recession that really socked UM students and the city. I give her very high marks.”

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