Schilling lobs softballs at Turner

Despite an abrupt retirement after pleading guilty to lying to federal prosecutors about “the activities of a known drug dealer” and accepting a plea agreement that requires him to submit himself for drug testing, the murky July retirement of UVA's loudest Dean got the softball treatment on local radio today.

Former Dean of African-American affairs M. Rick Turner enjoyed nearly an hour on WINA radio at the hands of former Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling. "It's a privilege to have him in the studio for an exclusive interview," said Schilling. "You had an 18-year successful career here."

Until today, the Dean, well known for his pre-retirement vociferousness, had not spoken to the media since his federal lying was revealed in mid-July. UVA announced his hasty retirement after 30 years in education, effective July 31, 2006.

Many found themselves on the receiving end of Turner's venting, particularly in the spring of 2005 when a controversial Charlottesville school superintendent was attempting to enact a variety of changes. As NAACP president, Turner was a frequent presence at school board meetings, where he occasionally accused some City parents, many of them self-styled liberals, of harboring racism.

"I praise you for your leadership in this group," said Schilling, no stranger to making liberals squirm in his four years on City Countil.

At UVA, Turner was seen as a smashing success in part because UVA leads the nation’s public universities with its 86 percent graduation rate for blacks, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

On the radio show, Schilling helped bring up that and many other interesting topics: affirmative action, Turner's war record, and his work with the NAACP, whose Charlottesville chapter he hopes to lead for a second two-year term. And Turner even offered his home phone number for interested parties to call.

However, Schilling, a Republican, never brought up Turner's surprising UVA departure– even though the outspoken dean is now serving 12 months of federal probation.

For his part, federal prosecutor John L. Brownlee has kept a tight lid on information in the case, even taking the unusual– some say unprecedented– step of announcing the punishment and then refusing to say which larger case it might have stemmed from.

Brownlee's most recent public statement on the case came in a September 3 profile in the Daily Progress in which he expressed hope that Turner "continues on a path of recovery" and said that "we wish him the very best in his progress.”

If Turner was getting close to people who dabbled in drugs, one caller, a Hook journalist, asked via telephone call-in if Turner had been "simply trying to help someone you care about stay out of trouble?"

"I retired because I'm 65 years old, and I had a long, successful career," Turner replied. A meeting with his family convinced him, Turner added. Schilling did not follow up.

Hook editor Hawes Spencer called in at the final moment, and after acknowledging the Dean's many contributions, asked Schilling why he was conducting such a "softball" interview.

"Softball?" exclaimed Schilling.

"I consider this an honest, forthright interview," said Turner. "I don't have any hardball kinds things I need to share with the community."