Give Julie Hermann this: She fully understands that the less people know about her, the better off they are. The Rutgers athletic director stood before a journalism class a few weeks ago and declared that it "would be great" if the state's largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger, went ahead and died. A high-profile emissary of a school that goes to great pains to promote itself as education-first was of the opinion that these students ought to be less informed. Less educated, even. But then if you're Julie Hermann, and you've made the mind-boggling mistakes she's made, a less informed audience is maybe the best thing.
The latest misstep from Herman, reported by Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi on Monday morning, was a spiteful, shameful act for any higher education administrator. But mostly it was stupid. It's stupid to believe that anyone can address a large group of any kind and not have those comments leak out, and it's certainly stupid for someone with Hermann's track record to be careless enough to forget that. So, this is the athletic director at Rutgers, the school that botched the Mike Rice scandal so spectacularly, the school that this summer will move into the Big Ten conference and into the glare of a big-time athletics heat lamp. No one should want Julie Hermann to lose her job, because really, this is going to be far too amusing to miss out on.
To recap the Hermann era at Rutgers so far: She was hired on May 15, 2013, to replace Tim Pernetti, who was fired in the fallout from the Rice scandal. At her introductory press conference, Hermann was asked about a wedding video taken when she was the head volleyball coach at Tennessee in which she warned an assistant coach about getting pregnant. Hermann denied any knowledge of the incident and said there was no video. A short time later the video surfaced. There was also a report of Hermann's former Tennessee players writing a letter accusing her of abusive coaching, which Hermann denied knowledge of, only to then remember it about a week or so later.
In November, after Rutgers football player Jevon Tyree quit and cited verbal and physical abuse from an assistant coach, the school issued a statement that Hermann met with Tyree's family. This was news to Tyree's family, which said the meeting never happened. Then Rutgers said Hermann spoke by phone with Tyree's father. This was news to Tyree's father, who said it never happened. Then Rutgers reportedly said Hermann believed she spoke with Tyree's father, but maybe spoke with "someone" who "represented himself as the father."
And now come Hermann's comments to a media ethics and law class at Rutgers. As reported by Politi after a student in that class published an article about the talk, Hermann told the students that if the newspaper wasn't "writing headlines that are getting our attention, they're not selling ads -- and they die. And the Ledger almost died in June, right?" A student replied that the newspaper might "die again next month," and Hermann replied: "That would be great. I'm going to do all I can to not give them a headline to keep them alive."
Now that we've all wiped the tears from our eyes after laughing at that priceless irony, let the arrogance of that set in. What Hermann fails to understand here -- and, frankly, this is an epidemic in college sports, not unique to the hallowed halls in Piscataway -- is that it's not about her. The Star-Ledger and other local newspapers helped expose the George Washington Bridge scandal that beset New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. It is not an entity seeking to destroy athletic administrators. And that lack of perspective makes Hermann a dangerous person to lead an athletic department that is about to enter real big business in the Big Ten, a department that needs anything but a myopic AD obsessed with perceived vendettas. There will be tens of millions of new dollars flowing into Rutgers' athletic coffers in a matter of months and Hermann resorts to petty insults that ought to offend just about every New Jersey citizen from Cape May to Vernon Township.
The Star-Ledger laid off 167 people last week. It was a sad, gruesome day. I grew up in New Jersey. I devoured The Star-Ledger sports section every morning at the breakfast table, and I spent one incredibly valuable summer there as an intern in 1999. I wouldn't be where I am today without that newspaper and without the mentorship and support of the smart, fair, hard-working people in that newsroom. Most newspaper jobs are not glamorous, and most don't pay extraordinarily well. Few, if any, are making what Hermann makes as a top athletic administrator. The writers and copy editors and clerks at The Star-Ledger have fairly blue-collar jobs in a fairly blue-collar state, and Hermann is too happy to have those people put in positions where they don't have money to pay their mortgages. She doesn't need to apologize to The Star-Ledger and its employees. She needs to go door-to-door, up and down the Turnpike, and apologize for having no clue about the state her employer represents.
But it's pretty clear now that Julie Hermann is concerned only with the interests of Julie Hermann, and she's not even capable of handling that well. This is Rutgers athletic director as it heads into the big world of the Big Ten, stumbling all over herself. She stood before students and determined that they'd be better off without more information, and it's about the only thing Hermann has gotten right since last May: The less we know about her, the better off we'll all be.