The onus of execution usually lies upon the visible head of an organization. The economy not looking good? Must be the president’s fault. Your McChicken not hitting the spot? Call the manager. The team not doing well? Must be the coach’s fault.
But this expectation hides the most dangerous and most invisibly powerful person in America: the middle manager. These are the people pushing the paperwork (or not), the ones taking directives from above and making sure they get passed along. These linchpins to the operation of society remain in the shadows, greasing or gritting the wheels.
At UNC, this was most recently demonstrated by the recent resolution of the DTH Media Corp.'s lawsuit regarding Silent Sam. Per usual, as the de facto face of UNC, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz was hit by the brunt of public acrimony. However, in the fallout from this, one name popped up several times — Clayton Somers.
If you’re not familiar with Somers, let’s run through his work history. After graduating from UNC in 1993 with a business degree, Somers then went to law school at Wake Forest University. He worked at a sports marketing and talent agency before bouncing around in the public sphere.
His true rise to management started when he became chief of staff for Tim Moore, who, as the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, is one of North Carolina’s most powerful Republican leaders.
After that stint in Raleigh, he migrated over to Chapel Hill as the vice chancellor for public affairs and secretary of the University. This was a position newly created for his arrival, with the ambiguous role to "strengthen campus contributions to state and national committees, advisory panels and policy boards" and “monitor proposed legislation and public policy issues.”
If that sounds like a whole lot of hogwash, then it would be best to assume it is. Somers, with that job description, has presumably had lots of room to operate under his own discretion at UNC. Much like Olivia Pope in "Scandal," Somers’s role seems to be a “fixer," doing the bulk of his work behind the scenes.
For example, in the Silent Sam settlement, Somers worked alongside the Board of Governors to negotiate a deal with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He seems to have had a minuscule level of accountability to the chancellor, his boss, who says he was largely unaware of the dealings being made by Somers until the last moment.
Somers is a prime example of the power of shadowy middle management, and his role in the Silent Sam settlement leaves us with many questions.
What other projects has he been involved with during his time at UNC? Where else has he been able to wheel and deal with an agenda that runs against UNC’s best interests? How much of his business has been conducted without the chancellor or other higher-ups at UNC knowing or being fully informed?
We won't know the answers to these questions until the University decides to embrace the transparency it has been lacking for years. When that happens, we can finally shine some light on the shadows that Somers seems to lurk in, and UNC can operate much more effectively and fairly.
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