May 23, 2013
The Perversion of Scholarship
Posted on Jul 30, 2012
By Chris Hedges
Harassment and physical violence by athletic teams and Greek organizations on American campuses is real. They use these threats to keep critics cowed and their entitlement secure. Any attack mounted against football programs or Greek organizations becomes an attack against the group identity that gives followers their sense of prestige and empowerment. And all those who question or criticize these organizations are treated as the enemy. When the Rev. William Sloan Coffin led the fight to shut down fraternities at Williams College, someone fired a shot through the window of his house. Vicky Triponey, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs, became a nonperson when she attempted to discipline half a dozen football players who had been involved in a brawl in which several students were injured and one was beaten unconscious. Football coach Joe Paterno acidly referred to her in a radio interview as “that lady in Old Main” (the central administration building) who couldn’t possibly know how to handle students because “she didn’t have kids.” The coach angrily told Triponey that his players would not cooperate with any investigation because they would not “rat” on each other. Penn State President Graham Spanier asked her pointedly if she really embraced “the Penn State way.” Triponey received threatening phone calls. She was denounced on student message boards. Her house was vandalized. A “for sale” sign was put up in her front yard. She was no longer invited to university events, fellow faculty and administrative staff avoided her, and people turned their backs on her in the supermarket. Spanier successfully pressured her to resign in 2007. Her husband found work at the University of South Carolina’s medical school in Charleston, and the couple moved.
Hazing, comradeship and complicity in sexual abuse, including rape, make up the glue that holds campus sports teams and fraternity houses together. The National Study of Student Hazing reports that 73 percent of U.S. fraternities and sororities haze. Since 1970, at least one student has died each year from hazing. Eighty-two percent of these deaths have resulted from alcohol poisoning. Hazing weeds out those with enough self-esteem and independence to stand up to the hierarchy. It ensures conformity and obedience. These groups are, in essence, self-selected. Those who have the fortitude and courage to oppose their own public humiliation and the public humiliation perpetuated with each new cycle of recruits or pledges leave. Those who remain conform. Athletic recruiting parties, like fraternity parties, at schools across the country are plagued by gang rapes and sexual assaults. And these crimes, known by all in the fraternity or on the team, are met, in locker rooms and Greek houses, with the culture of silence, mocking the stated missions of the schools.
Bernard Lefkowitz captured the sickness of this culture in his book “Our Guys.” Lefkowitz wrote about a group of high school athletes in Glen Ridge, N.J., who in 1989 lured a 17-year-old developmentally disabled girl to a basement. The boys sexually abused her with a broomstick and a baseball bat. And when the assault became public, the town rallied, as at Penn State, not around the victim, but “our guys.” Athletic prowess was, as we saw at Penn State, glorified above human decency, compassion, respect and the law. But this is true at most schools. As long as athletes perform they are untouchable.
The root of the problem is the culture of big-time athletics and Greek life. And it will not be addressed through NCAA sanctions or the removal of Joe Paterno’s statue at Penn State. It will end only when fraternities, sororities and football—along with other professional sports programs masquerading as college athletics—are banished from colleges and universities. These athletes, in the end, also are used. They are unpaid performers, brought to the campus solely for their athletic prowess, who make millions for their schools and their coaches. If you have a son or daughter—especially a daughter—who wants to get an education, look for a school that has banished these organizations.
The ruling elite sees in Greek organizations and football programs the training ground for the amoral class of speculators, bankers and corporatists who pillage the country. Henry “Hank” Paulson, who as secretary of the treasury orchestrated a government payout of more than $12.9 billion to save AIG and Goldman Sachs (where he had been the chairman and chief executive officer), was a member of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon and an offensive lineman at Dartmouth. The billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel, who chairs Dartmouth’s board of trustees, was, as Rolling Stone points out, in Psi Upsilon. Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, was a Phi Delt at Dartmouth, as were other trustees including Morgan Stanley senior adviser R. Bradford Evans, billionaire oilman Trevor Rees-Jones and venture capitalist William W. Helman IV. And that is just Dartmouth.
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