Friday, July 13, 2012

Corruption of the University

I have long been annoyed and frustrated by the role big sports play at American universities.  This is one area where Canadian schools are clearly superior--the athletic tail does not wag the academic dog up here as it does in the US.

So, the unsurprising news is that people at Penn State valued their program's reputation above the kids who came into contact with Sandusky.  When faced with potential trouble, these folks covered up, letting the kids be exposed to a pedophile and face a lifetime of scars from the experience.  Bigtime college sports creates a culture of entitlement.  Paterno, in the various reports, made it clear that he thought it was his job and no one else's to police the behavior of his athletes.  Student-athletes who violated the code of conduct were to be judged by Paterno and not by the procedures that governed the rest of the student body.  He expected this to be the case from all accounts, and was upset when anyone "poached" on "his terrain." 

This is, of course, a perversion of the academic enterprise.  When sports become the most important thing at a university, then we should expect standards of behavior to be tossed away and for the athletes and their mentors to be entitled.  Entitled to a free pass no matter what crimes they commit.  Sexually assaulting a child is pretty much as bad as it gets, but since Sandusky was associated with the football program, he got to walk and commit more crimes.  Awful, awful, awful.  With great power comes great responsibility.  But if there is no accountability, how can we expect power to be exercised responsibly.  Each bigtime coach gets to behave as he or she wants.  Bobby Knight gets to assault students.  Others get to betray the students on a regular basis by committing the students to a university and then walking out the door for some more money. 

Is Penn State the first school to hush up the crimes of people involved in their programs?  Certainly not.  Will this one event change the culture of American universities so that sports programs are held to account?  I doubt it.  I do hope that this event will cause some folks in some positions of power to draw some lessons that some accountability is increased in some places.  That is not much of a hope, but that is what we've got when coaches are given far more money and power than anyone else on campus.

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