Editorial: No Harm, No Foul

Editorial: No Harm, No Foul
December 12
00:00 2014

Victor “Vic” Johnson earned a rather dubious distinction last week when he was booted from the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees by members of the UNC Board of Governors. Never before had the governors removed a member from one of its member institutions’ boards.

Johnson could have avoided making history in such a way by simply resigning, but anyone who knows the steadfast community pillar knew that was never going to happen.

Johnson is a man of his convictions – be they right, wrong or somewhere in that gray area in the middle. The offense that incurred the wrath of the Board of Governors – and some of his former Board of Trustees colleagues – falls in that latter, opaque category. Johnson prematurely spilled the beans about the inner workings of the process to hire WSSU’s new chancellor.

It may surprise you that publicly-funded schools like Winston-Salem State pick leaders via a process that is nearly entirely secret. This arcane method is said to ensure that the most qualified candidates can feel free to apply without their current university employer being none the wiser.

But such a process is also ripe for leaks – not just at WSSU, but any institution, agency  or business where major decisions are being made by a very few that will affect very many. Major corporations searching for new CEOs regularly have the cat prematurely released from the bag; in Washington, the press knows the name of new cabinet appointees before Biden does. Sadly, in the age of TMZ, we can all kiss our secrets goodbye.

Some claim that Johnson’s loose lips harmed the selection process and will cast a pall over future selections. That argument is tenuous. While Johnson may be the first board member unceremoniously given walking papers, he is, by far, not the first to break the sacred protocol.

The only possible longterm damage we see from all of this is to his own reputation, one built high up over decades by dint of his unconditional love of his alma mater and his community. Any suggestion that Johnson’s intent was to harm his beloved WSSU is pure fable. Whatever he did, he did with the school’s best intentions in heart and mind.

Johnson does not always play by the rules; the path he walks is often divergent and to the beat of the drummer in his own head. He has shown time and again that he will break the norm and skirt the rules of propriety if he thinks it will benefit students, his community, “his school.” 

Let’s not let the Board of Governors’ decision be the cornerstone of Johnson’s long legacy – one that began even before he joined his WSSU classmates and students from Wake Forest University and Atkins High School in 1960 to stage the South’s first successful inner-racial sit-in movement. He has given too much for too long to have his contributions sullied by an innocuous infraction.

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