The ‘UNCG Three’ deserve no sympathy

by Jim Longworth

This Fall I am celebrating my 40th year in broadcasting, and that would not have been possible without the training I received at the UNCG campus television studio back in 1972. In the early part of this millennium I returned to UNCG to work with students on TV production and to guest lecture on cinema.

And, over the past year, I have been honored to have Chancellor Linda Brady and other University personnel participate in my “Triad Today” television series. I make these disclosures because I can no longer sit back and let the Greensboro News & Record and a few disgruntled UNCG staffers criticize the administration and make martyrs out of three university employees who got caught doing something they shouldn’t have done.

For anyone who hasn’t followed this saga, here’s the condensed version: On Sept. 24, three salaried employees of the UNCG University Relations Department were fired after their activities had been reported by someone outside of the department. Two of them, photographers Chris English and David Wilson, had allegedly been operating their own for-profit photography business during work hours, and are said to have used university cameras and computers while doing so. The third employee, Lydia Carpen, was Director of Creative Services, and she allegedly helped the two men file false time sheets to disguise their private business enterprise. The trio was arrested by campus police and charged with commission of various and sundry felonies associated with the falsified documents. The two men turned themselves into authorities, but Carpen was handcuffed and taken into custody by UNCG police. If convicted, the three could face prison time.

Before I take the defendants to task, let me say that their alleged offenses should not warrant a single day in jail. Further, though police officers are required to handcuff anyone they are transporting, I deplore that practice when it involves non-violent people who pose no danger to themselves or to others. State legislators need to pass a law that more clearly defines when and how such restraints are necessary. In any event, the arrests of English, Wilson and Carpen have transformed them into martyrs, and directed attention away from the acts they allegedly committed.

Over the past two weeks, a number of UNCG faculty and staff have been critical of the firings and the arrests. One of them, Bennett Ramsey, associate professor of religious studies, even penned a lengthy editorial for the News & Record in which he gave credence to the popular misconception that UNCG made a grave mistake. Meanwhile, a handful of disgruntled former University Relations employees have been playing the role of the angry villagers, demanding justice for the three defendants and vilifying Brady and Paul Mason, her Vice Chancellor for University Relations.

Mason, who has a stellar record in the private sector, was recruited to take over University Relations back in April of this year, presumably to whip the department back into shape and get it running in a professional manner and on budget. Several people were let go in the transition, and they are naturally bitter. Some of them have used the recent arrests to vent their petty complaints against Mason, and assassinate his character. Their efforts have only served to fan the flames of discontent and make people like Ramsey call for investigations and reforms. But amidst all the vitriol and protests, what everyone seems to forget is that three university employees might have broken the rules and broken the law.

Professor Ramsey tried to diminish those crimes by explaining that UNCG has always encouraged entrepreneurism among its students and faculty, but that doesn’t give employees a license to run their outside business on University time. That’s why it’s called an “outside” business for Christ’s sake (pardon my French, Professor Ramsey). There is, however, protocol for state employees to augment their salary, so long as that protocol is followed. One former UNCG staffer did just that.

Bert Vanderveen worked as a photographer in the University Relations department from 1997 until 2002. I asked him for some insight into this mess.

“When I was there, we were working 70 hours a week and making $20,000 a year. We had one broken camera and were asked to bring our own camera from home to do work for the university. I told my supervisor I needed some time off to do some outside work, which she approved so long as I didn’t work for another university. So I would work a split shift, take off a few hours and shoot freelance jobs, then come back to work at UNCG. But you can’t mix the two. You can’t do it ethically otherwise.”

Today, Vanderveen runs a successful photography business, but he shouldn’t have to compete against state employees who run their own business on university time while drawing a substantial salary (reportedly over twice what Vanderveen earned while employed in the same position). That sentiment is echoed by several other Greensboro-based small business owners I spoke with who provide professional photography services and whose taxes go to support the salaries of university employees.

BOB HENDERSON (owner Henderson Photography):

“I think what the UNCG guys did was highly unethical, and if they were using University equipment, that gives them an unfair advantage over us little guys.”

SUSIE BAKER (owner Custom Creations Photography):

“I’m glad they were let go because too much of this is allowed to fall through the cracks. I’m out there beating the streets for business and paying taxes, while they take no risk. They have a better opportunity to quote jobs for less because they have a job with a guaranteed salary. They shouldn’t be allowed to work on their own business while working for UNCG. It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to the university.”

KATHY DOLLYHIGH (owner, Dollyhigh Photography):

“It’s not just here in North Carolina.

The industry has been hurt by people who do things like this. I think it’s wrong. My overhead is unbelievable. I pay electric bills and phone bills, and internet bills. There’s no way what they did could be right and I can’t believe they thought it would be. It’s not right to use other people’s equipment and time to make a profit. It’s like they’re double dipping. It’s ethically wrong.”

The angry protestors who think Wilson, English and Carpen got a raw deal should cool it for a moment and try to walk a mile in the shoes of small business owners. These are the folks who take risks, put up their homes as collateral, hire employees, spend money in the community and pay taxes. Without them, there would be no state supported universities as we know them. UNCG employees who double dip on the clock undermine the success of those businesses, and that of the university itself.

UNCG is a special place, replete with dedicated faculty and staff who work long hours to improve and shape minds, and make this world better.

Together, the university and the local private sector combine to strengthen our community and our economy. The recent unpleasantness should serve to remind us that the two sectors can only co-exist when complimenting, not competing against each other. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).