Opinion: Welcome to Chattanooga, Vice Chancellor Heddleston

Opinion: Welcome to Chattanooga, Vice Chancellor Heddleston

March 31st, 2017 by David Martin in Opinion Columns

Jacqui Helbert, a former reporter for a WUTC-FM radio station at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, speaks to media during a student protest on Wednesday afternoon. Helbert was released from her duties at the radio station after state lawmakers complained she failed to disclose her presence during a meeting on a state transgender bathroom bill.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

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Columnist David Martin

Columnist David Martin

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

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Well, George Heddleston, I doubt many people have said it so far this week, but welcome to Chattanooga.

Hopefully you're not missing Ohio too much already.

We're usually much better at rolling out the red carpet for newcomers, airing the best of our Southern charm. Those comments you've gotten over on the WUTC Facebook page aren't the standard, I promise. Telling someone who just moved here from out of state "shame on you" and calling them a "liar" is certainly not the Chattanooga way.

I declare.

I feel for you, brother. I do. Being asked to publicly fall on the sword for a university administration after being on the job only a few short weeks is a huge task. Whatever happened to the honeymoon phase, right?

And while many have been calling for your resignation after you inherited the unenviable chore of firing WUTC reporter Jacqui Helbert for a "violation of journalism ethics" (wink wink, riiiiight), and then being forced to issue the university's only statement as community outcry grew loud, I think you deserve a raise. A whopper of one at that.

Because, let's be real, no one seriously believes you were the one who decided to terminate her employment. Not for a second. Anyone familiar with university bureaucratic structures knows well and good that higher-ups are zealously protected by lower-level administrators so the head honchos can keep their hands clean in messy dealings like, you know, unjustly firing an NPR-affiliate reporter.

We get it, man. The new guy drew the short straw and did his job. Happens all the time.

Speaking of head honchos, did your old colleagues from Wright State University who you've recently rejoined at UTC (Chancellor Steve Angle and fundraising whiz Bryan Rowland) mention when you were being recruited from Dayton that you'd have to be the bag man for business dealings like this? Or was it sprung on you after you got here?

Actually, wait, you guys probably didn't anticipate getting so much attention when you fired her, did you? I mean, who could blame you? After all, not many people in the community have a clue what's going on at UTC unless they're reading the sports page or they're being solicited by the development office.

So, axe the reporter and get on with the everyday business of running Chattanooga's largest higher education fiefdom. Sounds like an airtight plan.

Except for two things.

First, when a member of the media gets wrongfully canned, other media folks will certainly take note. And second, Chattanoogans are like most other human beings everywhere else on planet Earth. We like to see people treated fairly.

Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that (a) local media jumped all over the WUTC story, and (b) not many people are happy with you.

Again, though, you're just the whipping boy here. That's understood. Sorry for your misfortunes.

Which brings me back to those head honchos you've shielded. Could you let them know that their public relations "duck and cover" technique isn't sufficient? That maybe the chancellor himself should break free from his handlers and consultants and address (in person) the matter as the school's leader.

No more emailed statements, please.

In situations like these, folks would like to know whether he possesses his own voice of strength or if he's just Joe DiPietro's man in Chattanooga.

Hopefully the former.

But if he does keep hiding, would you be so kind as to tell him and his inner circle that though the storm clouds may pass from this episode, it's a remarkably noticeable smear on his otherwise unremarkable tenure at UTC.

Thanks. And once more, welcome.

Contact David Allen Martin (UTC, 2004) at davidallenmartin423@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.

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