The troubling news involving allegations of sexual assault at a pre-Rose Bowl party by resigned UW-Madison associate athletic director John Chadima brings back something former UW history professor and athletic board member Jeremi Suri told me in an interview four years ago.
"My experience studying organizations is that when they stop asking tough questions, they might be better off in the short run, but in the long run they get themselves into a lot of trouble," said Suri, who frequently and openly questioned moves made by athletic director Barry Alvarez before resigning from the board when it became clear he wasn't making any progress.
Alvarez and his department are not in "a lot" of trouble, but they are giving off signals that they don't quite understand the trust placed in them by the public. When Alvarez sidesteps concerns over who paid for Chadima's boozy Rose Bowl party by pointing out that it was donated money, not state funds, he's missing the point. Fans are donating that money with the time-honored strains of "Varsity" ringing in their ears, and they expect it to be used responsibly in the pursuit of championships, not to buy liquor for underage department staffers.
It's one thing to suggest that the energy required to support a successful athletic department distracts from the academic mission of the university, as Suri sometimes did. It's another to suggest that the actions of the athletic department are actually detracting from the reputation of its teams and the university it purportedly serves.
Is Alvarez the guy who is going to make sure that doesn't happen?