Scholarship, inquiry, self-criticism, moral autonomy and a search for artistic and esoteric forms of expression - in short, the world of ethics, creativity and ideas - are shouted down by the drunken chants of fans in huge stadiums, the pathetic demands of rich alumni for national championships, and the elitism, racism and rigid definition of gender roles of Greek organizations.
These hypermasculine systems perpetuate a
culture of conformity and intolerance. They have inverted the traditional
values of scholarship to turn four years of college into a mindless quest
for collective euphoria and athletic dominance.
These environments are distinctly corporate. To get ahead one must get along. The student is implicitly told his or her self-worth and fulfillment are found in crowds, in mass emotions, rather than individual transcendence.
Those who do not pay deference to the celebration of force, wealth and power become freaks.
It is a war on knowledge in the name of knowledge.
There are few university presidents or faculty members willing to fight back.
Most presidents are overcompensated fundraisers
licking the boots of every millionaire who arrives on campus. They are like
court eunuchs. They cater to the demands of the hedge fund managers
and financial speculators on their trustee boards, half of whom should be in
jail, and most of whom revel in this collective self-worship. And they do
not cross the football coach, who not only earns more than they do but has
much more power on the campus.
He arrived in Hanover, N.H., determined to do
battle with Dartmouth’s entrenched culture of elitism, white male
entitlement, fraternities and football. He did not have an easy tenure. The
Dartmouth Review published a cover article that depicted Freedman, who was
Jewish, as Hitler and wrote that he was orchestrating the “final solution”
to traditional conservatism at Dartmouth.
But Freedman’s imprint, once he departed, faded. Fraternity and football culture reasserted itself at Dartmouth.
A former Dartmouth fraternity member, Andrew Lohse, who is profiled in an April article in Rolling Stone, was ostracized not only by the students but the university administration for his public exposure of hazing and abuse.
He accused Dartmouth’s 17 fraternities, 11 sororities and three coed houses, to which roughly half of the student body belongs, of perpetuating a culture of “pervasive hazing, substance abuse and sexual assault,” as well as an “intoxicating nihilism” that dominates campus social life.
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 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.
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.
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.
They have been conditioned to join the team, to
surrender moral autonomy, to accept and carry out acts of personal
humiliation, to treat with contempt those who oppose them or who are
different, to define their life by an infantile narcissism centered on greed
and self-promotion and to remain silent about crimes they witness or take
part in. It is the very ethic of corporations.
And that is just Dartmouth.
It is almost impossible to escape your tormentors in the military. Suicide becomes for many the only exit. Chen, who was the sole Asian-American in his unit, endured sandbags being tied to his arms by fellow soldiers. Rocks and water bottles were thrown at him.
He was forced to speak Chinese instead of
English. And he was taunted with the slurs “gook,” “slant,” “chink” and “egg
roll.” Eight soldiers are being court-martialed in his death. A huge
percentage of the suicides in the military happen because of hazing. Most of
these cases are never investigated. The bodies are just shipped home.
These cultures are about subsuming the self into the herd. They are about the acquiring of technical, vocational skills to serve the system. And with the increasing budget cuts, and more craven obsequiousness to corporate donors, it will only get worse.
These forces of conformity are hostile to the humanities that teach students to question assumptions and structures, that prod them to seek a life of meaning and an ethical code that challenges the blind, utilitarian obedience to power and profit that corporations and the military instill.
We will, I fear, continue to turn out the intellectually stunted and maimed, those who know school football records but no philosophy, drama, art, music, theology, literature or history.
The goal of an education is not, in
the end, to tell students what to think but to teach them how to think.
The faculty and administration will not help
them; they are complicit or intimidated.
And those attending schools like Penn State will probably never find out at all.