Thanks to Aidan for posting the recent letter from Coach Ralph White. I have several uninteresting comments below the break.

First, I have done some more digging about the details of this case. The key fact (and something that I have not seen reported elsewhere) is that White received virtually no support from the senior athletic faculty in his bid for a permanent position.

The Athletic Department, like all departments at Williams, conducts a vote among the tenured faculty about whether or not to offer tenure to a candidate. There is no “tenure” per se for coaches, but the move from the 3 year initial contract to revolving 5 year deals is the coach equivalent of tenure. White is/was under consideration for a 5 year contract, but almost no other senior coach voted for him.

As always, details are sketching and my sources could be wrong, but the issue here is not that Morty does not like him or that Lisa Melendy wants more female coaches. Those things might be true, but they are not crucial. The key is that White does not seem to get along with his peers. If veteran coaches are not willing to grant you a position at Williams, you aren’t going to get one, whatever your success on the field or your popularity among your players.

And the same is true in any department. If a majority of the tenured members of Political Science or Biology or English do not vote to give you a permanent position, then you are going elsewhere. Want to solve the mystery of Ralph White’s forthcoming departure from Williams? Ask the other coaches.

Second, I was shocked by this part of the Record article.

Michelle Burgher, a former assistant track and field coach under Head Coach Ralph White, claimed that the reasons given for White’s contract non-renewal are incomplete. She revealed her assertions in a letter that was sent out to track and field parents and alumni last Thursday.

According to Burgher, the administration told White that his inadequate master’s degree did not qualify him for a contract extension. As stated in her letter, White was told in 2004 that to become a senior member of the athletics department, he would have to complete his master’s degree, which he had begun at previous accredited institutions. He attempted to go to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), but was informed his old credits had expired and that he would have to start his masters from scratch. White then asked Harry Sheehy, director of athletics, currently on leave, if an online degree from Rochville University would be adequate. Sheehy confirmed that it would.

Burgher, an assistant coach at the time, claims she and Kurt Duncan, another assistant coach at the time, were there when that verbal exchange took place. “Kurt and I were with him when [White] was explaining to Sheehy about the degree he got credit for, and Sheehy explicitly said that it would be fine. Now he is saying that he ‘can’t recall’ that, but we know he is lying,” she wrote.

It is a very serious act for Burgher to accuse a veteran athletic director like Sheehy of “lying.” Those are strong words. The risk to Burgher is that other athletic directors might not care to have her as coach on their staffs. It appears that Burgher is no longer interested in coaching, so perhaps she doesn’t care. Still, when was the last time you read such a strong denunciation of one faculty member by a (former) faculty member?

Third, Does White have a chance? In a word, No. But if there is any hope it must come via two possibilities: First, his supporters must make direct contact with either a trustee or big-money donor. All the e-mails in the world from random alums won’t matter. Second, has anyone considered playing the race card? Initially, I had this vague sense that White was, well, black. Any African American faculty member at Williams who was being fired (and who was successful in his field and loved by his students) could count on strong support from the Africana Studies Department. Professor Joy James is one of the more powerful faculty members at Williams. If she got involved, something might happen.

But, alas, White does not look black, unlike Michelle Burgher or Antoine Agbra (the “assistant coach” hired by White from Africa). So, perhaps the race card isn’t an option. Still, White has done more than his share to diversify the (athletic) faculty. If I were a White student supporter — awkward phrasing, eh? — I would reach out to Professor James. She probably doesn’t care, but who knows?

Print  •  Email