Robert Barchi is the 20th president in the history of Rutgers University. In the past 48 hours, Barchi has been in the spotlight after the release of video tape containing shocking footage of head men's basketball coach Mike Rice abusing his players during practice, with Rice being fired (via CBS News).
Here's what I can tell you. Robert Barchi is a neuro-scientist. He became the president of Rutgers in September of 2012 with a lot to take care of at the public institution. With more than 100 distinct bachelor degrees and an equivalent number of graduate opportunities, Barchi inherited a lot of responsibility. Not to mention that Rutgers has campuses in New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark and Camden. Not exactly a small school environment to say the least.
One of his biggest priorities, and a big reason why he was hired, was to help Rutgers as they prepare to absorb the University of Medicine and Dentistry following the state approval of the merger. This merger is huge for Rutgers, which is also a member of the Association of American Universities, making it a top-75 research institute in the nation.
His background is in science, business and education—not sports.
Tim Pernetti, the Director of Athletics for Rutgers, has a bit of a different background. He is a Rutgers alumnus and a former member of the football team, where he played tight end. He moved on to a successful career in sports media where he learned the ins and outs of the business and economics of sports.
When Pernetti became the AD at Rutgers in 2009, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the hire. Pernetti lived up to the expectations, making bold hires (including Mike Rice), improving facilities and eventually breaking through by moving Rutgers into the Big Ten Conference.
You can see how both of these men stepped into a lot of work at Rutgers and have a lot to deal with during a typical day on campus. You may also see the separation and difference between their bodies of work and what goes on under their watch. The bottom line is that Robert Barchi is the president of the institution, and Pernetti is trusted to take care of the whole sports aspect.
Robert Barchi must look to push Rutgers forward as an academic entity, build a reputable medical school, and must also look out for the hundreds of other programs at Rutgers. Tim Pernetti has to worry about one program, the athletic program.
Pernetti and Barchi are certainly joined at the hip as the two were publicly involved in the school's move to the Big Ten. Barchi emphasized the importance of the move as far as academics and research were concerned, while Pernetti chimed in with talk of the powerhouse conference from a competition standpoint.
With this said, once the Big Ten press conference was over, Barchi returned to duties and trusted that Tim would take care of his athletic department. That is why they hire departmental directors at universities.
What we know is that Mike Rice should have been fired immediately upon review of these tapes. What we are unsure of is how the situation was presented to Barchi, and how serious he thought it was. The tone with which the situation was presented to Barchi makes a big difference in all of this, especially if he did not see the tapes until a day or two ago.
If Barchi was told "Mike Rice was yelling at players and being a little rough, but we talked and he is sorry," I could see how Barchi could see a suspension being a worthwhile penalty.
It is hard to believe that if he was told "Mike Rice was using gay slurs and pegging kids in the head from close range," he would have let Rice off that easy.
I'm going to give Barchi the benefit of the doubt and say that this was probably downplayed initially. He could have done more, yes, but he also trusted a man in Pernetti, who has been at Rutgers longer than Barchi, to handle the disciplinary action.
Now, with all of his other important duties still looming, Barchi could lose his job because of a lack of judgment and communication within the athletic department. I am in no way downplaying the situation, but let's be honest: Barchi has way more to worry about than basketball practice.
He trusted Pernetti to handle the situation, as he should have, and Pernetti dropped the ball. Barchi is a scientist and a scholar. If the medical school merger fails, that is on him. If the engineering department loses its accreditation, that's on him. If he wastes the state's money, that is most certainly on him. But a basketball practice? A basketball coach? That's on Pernetti.
Should Pernetti be fired? I'm not sure yet. The one thing I do know, however, is that Robert Barchi most certainly should not lose his job. He has way more important things to deal with, and has everything else moving in the right direction.
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