Moten Brown to oversee athletics

Kristin Gustafson

Serving at the right hand of University President Mark Yudof has offered Tonya Moten Brown an eyeful.
In addition to managing the everyday conflicts normally addressed by a university’s president, Brown got front-row seating for the men’s basketball scandal.
On Friday, one year after wide-spread cheating allegations surfaced, Brown was officially promoted to a vice president position overseeing University athletics.
In addition to the newly added and high-profile position, Brown will keep her position as Yudof’s chief of staff. She offers an insider-administrative perspective to her new responsibilities, as well as strong values for education and accountability.
Nationally, Brown is one of very few African-American women to oversee athletics in the role of vice president.
She served as Yudof’s assistant dean at the University of Texas School of Law before Yudof joined the University three years ago.
Extremely loyal to Yudof and the University, Brown said the promotion offers her an opportunity to make positive institutional changes in an important and highly visible area at the University — athletics.

Education as a key
Other than high school cheerleading, Brown, 38, lacks an athletics background. Administrative skills and institutional priorities for student educations are more important for the position, Brown said.
“I recognize that I’m not hired to be a kind of super-athletics director,” Brown said. “I am being hired to bring leadership and management skills to the athletics department, and it is really up to the (athletics directors) to be responsible for the day-to-day management.”
Making sure student-athletes get the education they deserve — a priority Yudof and others made clear following the academic-misconduct investigation — parallels Brown’s value for education.
Brown was the first in her family to get a college education. Her father was drafted during the Vietnam War, then made the military his career, and her mother works for a telephone company.
“If we are really going to ever address the real inequities that exist in our society, … education is the one door that can do that,” Brown said.
Institutional choices can emphasize this value in education, she said.
For instance, she said, hiring men’s basketball coach Dan Monson brought that program “the right values in and balance between athletics and education.”
Brown said a value-driven leadership must start from the top.
“It’s how you make those kind of choices that you get those values into the institution, … and then it is a matter of accountability,” she said.

Dogged determination
Accountability is key to the University, especially as it recovers from the men’s basketball scandal.
After the investigative findings revealed cracks in the University’s checks and balances, faculty said they wanted athletics directors to report to a senior central administrative officer who reported directly to the president.
Brown — a person of “absolute integrity” and “dogged determination” — was the first choice of Fred Morrison, Faculty Consultative Committee chairman.
“I think that is one of the things that has been missing in the supervision of the athletics operations,” he said after the investigation.
“What she brings is a logical mind and an ability to organize, and a determination to get things done and not to forget about uncomfortable things,” he said.
A lot of people at the University knew a little bit about the academic misconduct but decided not to follow up, Morrison said. “If (Brown) knew a little bit, she would doggedly go until she found out a whole lot.”
“She wants not just answers — she wants thorough answers … some might call her rigid. I think at the present time, we need someone who is rigid,” Morrison said.
Brown agreed with Morrison’s assessment of her persistence.
“It is kind of wanting to get to the bottom of it because you need as much information as possible to help you to make the right decision,” Brown said.
Part of this comes from being an attorney, she said. A lawyer must know everything, including the things a client fails to tell you, because those are the things that can come back to haunt you, Brown said.
Before Friday’s board meeting, several regents said they worried Brown’s promotion put too much responsibility into one position and gave athletics a biased ear of the president.
Brown said regents’ workload concerns were “absolutely correct,” but delegation of responsibilities and hiring new staff members should help.
And because of her dual role, athletics is brought closer to Yudof.
However, given the basketball scandal, “that seems a sensible thing to do,” Brown said.
Brown’s loyalty to Yudof and Yudof’s trust in Brown made her an excellent choice for taking on the department after such distress.
“My loyalty is to Mark, but Mark’s loyalty is to this institution. I think for us to work best and for us to really make progress, we have to look at those two as circles that intersect,” Brown said.
The dual role of chief of staff and vice president can offer athletics a perspective of “truly institutional-wide priorities … a real knowledge of how this institution works,” she said.
Brown also can bring Yudof’s management style of openness and candor to the department.
The biggest hurdle will be re-establishing the trust between the athletics department and central administration. At the end of the day, Brown said she hopes both agree the athletics department exists “for the benefit of student-athletes.”
Yudof said he wanted Brown for the position because he trusts her, she’s smart and is “as honest as I’ve ever met.”
He deliberately wanted someone to oversee athletics who did not have other reporting lines to avoid any conflicts of interest, Yudof said.
And he wants some peace of mind over an area of the University that has consumed a disproportionate amount of Yudof’s time during the past year.
“When I go to sleep at night, I want to know (Brown) is worrying about all those issues.”

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and federal government and welcomes comments at [email protected]