Richard Cherwitz is not the first university specialist in communication who communicates poorly…

…and he won’t be the last. But he is certainly one of the first professors to complain that the “final straw” (one of his cascade of cliches) in the matter of American university big-time sports is the doubling of prices for faculty tickets. Not the crime, not the slime, not the one-and-done time, not the president-as-athletic-department-mime (gimme a break – trying to keep up the … rhyme…) — no, the ugly rot at the core of campus football and basketball turns out to be his university having “more than doubled the price of faculty and staff season … tickets.”

In setting out his critique of university sports at places like his school, the notorious University of Texas, Cherwitz offers the classic bad writer’s combination of pretentiousness and – as we already noted – cliche. Oh – plus pointless quotation marks.

I cannot speak to what may be the legitimate concerns and response of donors. However, I know that most of my faculty and staff colleagues with whom I have talked opted not to renew their season tickets. It now was clear to us that the Athletics Department no longer considers faculty and staff to be members of the “family” and “community” – the very people who educate and serve student athletes. Instead, we became another one of the institution’s many “corporate customers.”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm trusts that given his love of sports, Cherwitz’s boycott will be of short duration. She’s sure that will be true of other faculty members as well.


UD thanks a reader for sending her the opinion piece.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says:

If you want to read an example of a really good essay, go here, to Jay Michaelson’s piece on the ongoing death of Israeli democracy. Let me tell you why it’s a terrific essay.

First of all, it’s very short, but within that concision Michaelson brilliantly, elegantly, and with dramatic – even poetic – flair, conveys his argument. An essay is “a short piece of writing on a particular subject,” says the first dictionary definition I get when I Google “meaning of the word ‘essay.'” The best essayists know how to pack their meaning into very few words, and this brevity often packs quite a punch… It is, if you like, a punch – a quick feint to the brain which suddenly distracts the mind from its customary thoughts and makes it pay attention. Think Joan Didion – that weird evocative minimalism which somehow by picking out only a few powerful words (and these are often repeated words) hooks onto you and holds you.

Second, Michaelson’s tone is neutral, controlled, calm, observant… And at the same time it manages to convey intense underlying emotions. Didion’s great at this too: On the surface, in her essays about her husband and her daughter, for instance, she’s so much about dry perceptive intellect directed to the world, careful precise language brought to the description of her experience, that you only gradually realize the almost unbearable melancholy that she’s really feeling, the bafflement and despair that’s in fact motivating the writing as a way of understanding and assimilating the tragic nature of life.

Third, Michaelson gives his essay a narrative frame. The obnoxious Hasid on Michaelson’s flight from Israel begins and ends the essay, giving the author’s abstractions about “a minority group … that pays those who are destroying it” (he has in mind Israeli and American Jewish subsidies of the most reactionary sects within the faith) a grounding in the immediacy of the real world… Or perhaps SOS should say a floating in the immediacy of the in-flight world, where women are angered by the Hasid’s refusal to sit next to them, and where women and men are made anxious by the man’s bizarre rule-flouting behavior throughout the flight.

Finally, Michaelson’s not got much space so he’s not going to fart around. He’s not going to mince words. He’s going to tell you – calmly, precisely – what’s in the mind of the Hasid, what has been put in the Hasid’s mind by the education that the larger Jewish community continues to subsidize.

Most likely, he has learned in religious schools – paid for mainly by government largesse, thanks to “faith-based initiatives” and the erosion of the garden wall between church and state – that goyim have no souls, or are like animals, or worse… . Taught that the customs of the goyim – that includes non-Orthodox Jews, of course – are filthy, stupid and nonbinding, Haredim are unruly passengers on airplanes. “Fasten seatbelts?” – goyishe toireh. “Don’t gather in the aisles?” – narishkeit.

But no – he can’t really know exactly what the Hasid is thinking.

Really, I have no idea what the Hasid is thinking, what the flight attendants are thinking or what my fellow passengers are thinking.

I can report only what I am thinking. And that is that this moment of obstinacy and disrespect is one that we Jews have created. Our cousins in Israel have given the Haredim everything they’ve asked for in exchange for their political support – just watch as the new government undoes all the progress of the previous one – at tremendous cost to society as a whole. And our institutions here in America continue to dole out benefits to fundamentalists opposed to the very institutions that are feeding them.

The last two sentences of Michaelson’s essay wonderfully meld the particular, the immediate narrative of the obnoxious Hasid, with the general:

An obstreperous man on an airplane is not so bad; after a few hours, we made it to JFK, safe and sound. Reversing course on Jewish fundamentalism will be a lot harder.

UD knows she shouldn’t laugh; but her evil twin, Scathing Online Schoolmarm, made her do it.

SOS likes the anti-climax of the final clause.

Khadar was charged with two counts each of second-degree reckless endangerment, third- and second-degree assault; breach of peace, assault of a public safety officer, four counts of interfering with an officer, drunken driving, evading responsibility, reckless driving and failure to wear a seat belt.


From a letter to the editor of a South Carolina newspaper. The subject: Events at South Carolina State University.

[SCSU President Thomas] Elzey has made two incredulous declarations to all viewing from near and afar: “SCSU will not close, and I will not resign.” Though he emphatically states these, he has control of neither.

The writer means incredible. Elzey has made statements that we cannot believe. Things are incredible – experiences, statements.

Incredulous refers to the human condition or feeling of not being able to believe something. I am incredulous when I hear Elzey say incredible things.

Had Elzey said I cannot believe what is happening to me! Everyone thinks I should resign! – then he would have been declaring his incredulity.

“[Florida Congressman Paul] Gosar said that if the U.S. were to pay ransom to terrorists, then ‘every American citizen traveling abroad becomes a subject in regard for kidnapping and then the plight of how much money has been captivated in the Boca Raton group.'”

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says:

SOS is speechless.

Tricks of the Writing Trade: How a Strong Writer Defends the Indefensible.

Take an obviously ugly, unloved, unused or underused public building. A grotesquely out of place building (urban, it has been placed in a rural setting) loathed for decades – since its inception – by virtually its entire community (they after all have had to look at it every day). Finally the community is about to be able to blot it from the landscape – or, more precisely, to alter it so radically that they’ll probably be able to live with it going forward without hating themselves and the world. All good, right?

Well, no.

Architecture remains the realm of The Great Man, and Paul Rudolph is part of that crew, so every building he designed must be defended, even if that building – as is the case with the Orange County Government Center, in Goshen, N.Y. (two hours directly south of UD‘s house in New York) – gives off the rank sweat of an unseam’d bed. And not just defended but stuck there, dammit, forever and a day.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm, student of prose, now examines the New York Times architecture critic’s attempt to keep Rudolph in the Land O’ Goshen. How do you write against the obvious? How do you avoid revealing any off-putting elitism? How, as a dynamic modernist, do you deny the validity of change itself?

You want to avoid this gambit, tried by an earlier defender of the place:

“It’s like saying, ‘I don’t like Pollock because he splattered paint,’” said Nina Rappaport, chairwoman of Docomomo-New York/Tri-State, an organization that promotes the preservation of Modernist architecture. “Does that mean we shouldn’t put it in a museum? No, it means we teach people about these things.”

Hop away from the hog oiler and listen up – you might learn something.

No, Michael Kimmelman will take a different tack. Let’s scathe through his piece.


A Chance to Salvage a Master’s Creation

Paul Rudolph Building in Goshen, N.Y., Faces Threat

Master, Threat. But there’s a chance to Salvage. Faces Threat: Immediate Drama. Urgency. We are alerting the troops.

Unless county legislators act quickly, a paragon of midcentury American idealism will be lost.

Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, in Goshen, N.Y., announces itself as a civic hub. It’s made of corrugated concrete and glass, organized into three pavilions around a courtyard, like an old wagon train around a village green.

First move: Go folksy. Go Americana. Ignore the fact that the photograph that accompanies your article fails in any way to resonate with paragon, idealism, civic, pavilion, courtyard, old wagon train, and village green. Press forward.

And that’s the approach SOS is going to note in Kimmelman’s piece. When you got nuthin’ your only option is to go all out. Know what I mean? It takes balls. It takes writerly skill.

A county proposal would tear down huge chunks of it, flatten the roof, destroy windows, swap out parts of the textured concrete facade and build what looks like an especially soul-crushing glass box. Goshen would end up with a Frankenstein’s monster, eviscerating a work that the World Monuments Fund, alarmed by precisely this turn of events, included on its global watch list alongside landmarks like Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.

A building made of huge chunks of monstrous soul-crushing concrete is now threatened with transformation into a building with huge chunks of monstrous soul-crushing glass. So far not a strong defense. Still, he’s jammed some very pretty scary words – SOS likes the lip-smacking eviscerate – into this, and he’s just getting started.

Plus, whatever it looks like, this thing is up there with Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China. Damn hayseeds don’t appreciate what they’ve got.

Haters in Orange County government have been contemplating its demise for years, allowing it to fall into disrepair and shuttering the building, citing water damage after Hurricane Irene in 2011. Pictures of the interior from the early 1970s, when the center was still new, show a complex of animated spaces, by turns intimate and grand. Later renovations ruined the inside, making it cramped and dark. Rudolph was a master of sculpturing light and space, following in the footsteps of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose emotionalism he married to the cool Modernism of Europeans like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.

Haters is also scary stuff. Haters. When Kimmelman, a man of strong opinions, writes with hatred about buildings he hates, he’s not a hater. He’s a… what… a potent discriminator…

Now we get some familiar archi-adjectives – animated, grand, intimate, cool. All are there to create a vague flush of excitement in us as we contemplate inhabiting this paragon of light and space; all are there to obliterate the obvious impossibility of attaining anything like a sense of grandeur or intimacy in this building.

And since when are grandeur and intimacy things anyone associates with county government? Since when are Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China continuous with the Goshen New York municipal building?

Still, The Great Man was continuous with earlier Great Men. We are to be impressed with this lineage (Corbu, Wright, Gropius).

His style, unfortunately, came to be branded Brutalism, and turned off many. But the government center was conceived with lofty social aspirations, making tangible Rudolph’s concept of energetic governance as a democratic ideal. It was a beautiful notion; and while the architecture may never win any popularity contest, it was beautiful, too, with its poetry of asymmetric, interweaving volumes.

This is what SOS means by just going for it. When you’ve got nothing going for you, go for it. Acknowledge the bizarre, motiveless ascription of the name Brutalism to this sort of building; insist that if a building means well, it looks well (“conceived with lofty social aspirations”), and then stick in some patriotic cliches to keep the flush of vague excitement going (energetic governance as a democratic ideal). The awkwardness here is that central to democracy is the will of the people, and in regard to Paul Rudolph’s building that will is overwhelmingly clear.

Now make your boldest move: Call an ugly building beautiful. Go ahead. You’ve gone this far; the only place to go is yet farther. Call it poetic.

Okay, so we’ll skip a little.

Demolishing Penn Station seemed expedient to politicians and other people a half-century ago, when only a noisy bunch of architecture buffs and preservationists pleaded for its reprieve. Back then, Rudolph was a leading light in American architecture, his work the epitome of American invention and daring.

The original Penn Station was beautiful, monumental, and deserved every bit of the effort devoted to salvaging it. But here we’re back at the Machu Picchu/Great Wall of China problem. Machu Picchu, Great Wall of China, Penn Station, Goshen County Building. Seriously?

Final paragraph.

History is on the Government Center’s side, too. Here’s hoping county legislators are.

Another grand statement for a small subject. Goshen must be on the side of history!

Actually, Goshen, with energetic governance as its democratic ideal, can be wherever the hell it wants. Goshen seems to see itself as a place of vernacular buildings which express its actual history, rather than as a Mount Rushmore of all-American, world historical architects like Paul Rudolph, who, after his early work met with hostility

turned inward to lavish interior-design projects, evincing through the 1970s a comfort with the extravagant that was out of tune with professional norms. Then he turned away from the American scene altogether, to rework old ideas in a series of large projects overseas, such as the Colonnade apartments in Singapore and the Lippo Centre in Hong Kong…

“Block That Metaphor!” was the title of a long-running New Yorker feature…

… which singled out mixed metaphors in prose. Mixed metaphors tend to mix up your reader. Here’s an example, taken from a review of The Hunting Ground, a film about sexual assault on American college campuses.

Given that the film levels a withering j’accuse against a complex skein of heterogeneous institutions and organizations, it will have a harder road ahead inspiring organizational reform in the same way The Invisible War did, but there’s no doubt it will get audiences debating and talking when it goes on release via RADiUS in March and when it is broadcast later this year on CNN.

Let’s highlight some of the figurative language in here.

‘Given that the film levels a withering j’accuse against a complex skein of heterogeneous institutions and organizations, it will have a harder road ahead inspiring organizational reform in the same way [the film] The Invisible War did, but there’s no doubt it will get audiences debating and talking when it goes on release via RADiUS in March and when it is broadcast later this year on CNN.’


The j’accuse bit is a rather overheated cliche, but let that go. The real problems in this sentence begin with skein. When we see skein, we see literal lengths of knotted yarn and figurative knotty complexities. Do we need “complex” in front of skein? Scathing Online Schoolmarm thinks not. It mucks up a sentence that already has too many words. And skein itself is maybe not the right word for what she means. She means to describe the network of universities in this country – and they are a network, not a skein. Skein suggests a somewhat fragile, random unit of things, whereas universities are more sturdy, meaningful, interconnected phenomena.

Now the writer puts the skein on the road. The skein “will have a harder road ahead.” I suppose we could at this point imagine something like tumbleweed… But really, the writer does our efforts to figure out her meaning no favors when she jams all of this at-odds figurative language into her sentence. Write simply, and don’t unspool too many skeins.

The local rags – especially in the southland – specialize in propaganda pieces on behalf of the local university teams…

… and Scathing Online Schoolmarm, long a student of propaganda, finds them well worth a look. If you read through the SOS posts on this blog, you’ll see plenty of analyses of modern American sports agitprop.

The point of this genre of writing is to transform empty stadiums into … well, not full… everyone knows what’s what these days in university sports… But to transform the total embarrassment of empty stadiums (the stuff is broadcast) into the mild discomfort of half-full stadiums. And since shitty dissolute sports programs repel everyone, your hackwork here ain’t gonna be easy.


Why is why SOS finds it sad that the people to whom editors throw these challenging assignments are usually the rookies, or anyway the worst writers on staff. Who else would take the gig? Your job is to rally the troops – to get the burghers of Bogalusa out of bed in order to hit terrible traffic, deal with scary drunks, sit for three hours while almost nothing happens, etc., etc., etc.

Those long empty hours give people plenty of time to contemplate less than attractive aspects of the sports program they’re supposed to be cheering. FAMU’s fans, for instance, will have trouble shaking off memories of their school’s homicidally hazing marching band…

But you won’t find a word about that ongoing unpleasantness in Jordan Culver’s piece in the Tallahassee Democrat yesterday. Culver begins with a lament:

[F]ans have been absent — if not totally nonexistent — during home games.

That’s home games, so I guess we’re talking, uh, even less than nonexistent for away.

What to do? The team stinks, the band kills its musicians, and to make matters worse vanishingly few people are applying to attend FAMU anyway. Into this desperate situation steps the local propagandist. What can he do to help?

There are basically two ways to go: Righteous rage against the people (we’ll see an example of that in a moment), and – the Culver option – humble entreaty. Culver goes ahead and acknowledges that the program’s a total mess, with new coaches stepping in every ten minutes or so… But please note! When I call FAMU coaches, they answer the phone and talk to me!

I call, he answers. I ask a question, he — to the best of his ability — provides an answer.

You can’t abandon a program whose coaches pick up the phone. Plus they all have “a vision.”

[FAMU’s interim athletics director] is willing to share [his] vision, and I think it’s one even the most disgruntled FAMU fan can get behind.

But what is that vision? Culver doesn’t quote the AD; nor does he quote any of the other people who will be running the FAMU program for the next few hours. He just says they all have a vision. The vision thing. We can get behind that, can’t we?


Righteous rage against the people has certain inherent risks, familiar to the classic propagandists of communist countries. The greatness of humanity, its glorious freedoms – these are what life is all about. They’re especially what the freewheeling all-American ethos of sport is about. You don’t want to mess up that… vision… with nasty, coercive, or – God forbid – threatening language.

On the other hand, if you are Clemson zealot Zach Lentz you are in a terrible vindictive snit, especially about the basketball team.

[S]upport for this team is dwindling at an astonishing rate and it has to wear not only on the coach but the players.

This first point is a variant of what SOS has long called coacha inconsolata (put the phrase in my search function), the evocation of the agonies suffered by coaches who through no fault of their own recruit criminals or make institution-destroying salaries or play to empty stadiums. In an echo of the notorious “kitten” internet meme, coacha inconsolata says Every time you fail to attend a game, a coach is worn down to a nub.

Same deal for the kids:

These student-athletes put hours of blood, sweat and tears into a job that’s sole purpose is to entertain the fans watching. The least we can do as fans is get out of our house or dorm and make the trip or walk over to support them. Maybe if we fans get behind the team from the beginning rather than waiting on a magical end-of-the-season run, we might see something special from a special group of kids.

First, then, you inflict guilt. Next up is the drill sergeant, barking his orders with numbing redundancy:

[T]here is no excuse. There is no excuse for there to be empty seats in the student section. No excuse for the people who have said of football game times, “I don’t care if they play at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, I’m going to be there.”

Liars! Look what you said, and look what you did! No excuse, no excuse, no excuse!

The next thing is fully in line with the tendency of communist regimes to say exactly the opposite of the truth as if everyone knows this exactly the opposite thing is obviously true:

[P]eople love to go to sporting events. They love to be a part of the pageantry and witness the spectacular in person.

We don’t have to threaten our people with reprisals if they fail to show up for the May Day parade. Everyone loves pageantry and spectacle.


It’s strange how Lentz hasn’t noticed the national conversation about massively tanking attendance at university sports events.

It’s especially strange since he’s writing about massively tanking attendance at his university’s sports events.


Finally: The sobbing old-timer grapples with his lost world.

There was a time when students camped outside, waited in the cold and rain and people couldn’t wait to get inside to watch their team take on whoever dared enter the arena that night.

Why, I remember, back in two thousand naught eight…

“I am a current employee with Treetops [Hotel]. I personally saw distruction and aftermath with my own eyes! It’s very sad that to see my place of employment in scrambles.”

This is from the comment thread of an article about some pillaging University of Michigan fraternities…

Scathing Online Schoolmarm likes very much the word “scrambles” here. It’s the kind of mistake (distruction and other mess-ups are less interesting mistakes) that makes you think about language, about why people reach for certain words when trying to express certain things.

The writer probably meant shambles – to see my place of employment in a shambles – but also somewhere in his or her head was perhaps not merely scramble (which can have meanings having to do with making quick and sometimes desperate moves, which I suppose has some mental connection to what the marauding lads did), but also scrabble (which similarly can mean panicky random movement). This person’s place of employment will have to scramble, and it will have to scrabble through a lot of trash, to fix the mess the UM group made.

Was trample in there too? Was the desire that these visitors from one of America’s most icky football schools scram in there?

Sloppy Editing in Foreign Policy

Houellebecq’s treatment of Islam is now far more nuanced, even admiring,” writes Robert Zaretsky in a Foreign Policy essay about contemporary France.

Six paragraphs later, he writes: “Houellebecq’s perspective has grown more nuanced, even admiring.”

It’s not a big deal that Zaretsky didn’t catch it, but where are FP’s editors?

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says:

This is a very nicely written piece about university football, penned by a brave local English professor in Texas. It shows emotional restraint, and clever concision. John Crisp simply cites three adjacent articles in his local paper:

[O]n a single page in my local paper we find: A suicide by a young man who believed he was suffering from sports-related concussions. A quarterback so vital to the success of his team and its profit-making football program that he’s eager to risk his future mental health. And a university president excoriated for making a sound economic and ethical decision.

The first reference is to the concussion-wracked suicide, Kosta Karageorge, the second to the concussed but still playing Baylor quarterback, and the third to the University of Alabama Birmingham’s decision to shut down its unaffordable football program.

Only in his last line does Crisp come out with it:

One wonders if football has become important beyond all reason.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: There’s a Kind of Bad Writing You Can Only Learn at College.

Here’s an example, from a Georgetown University senior who argues in the school paper (the piece has now been taken down) (the piece seems to have been put back up) that his recent mugging by gunpoint in Georgetown was a product of economic disparities.

Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as ‘thugs?’ … It’s precisely this kind of ‘otherization’ that fuels the problem …

As young people, we need to devote real energy to solving what are collective challenges. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame [the muggers]. The cards are all in our hands, and we’re not playing them.

Amid this clutch of cliches, a single word really stands out – otherization.

The writer has enhanced this already lovely term by growing quotation marks for it.


The conservative press is having lots of fun with this student’s effort to understand his mugger. SOS, as always, is more concerned with the lamentable prose he has brought to his claims, the learned raid on the articulate (to mess with TS Eliot a bit) this writing represents.

Especially if you’re going to argue something unpopular (people in our cities who stick guns in our faces and force us to the ground at night in order to take all of our goods should be objects of sympathy), you need your writing to be really good. In this particular case, you somehow need your words to convey your grasp of the complexity of the problem of crime, and your understanding that most of your readers aren’t going to agree with your position on it, even as you defend your non-standard take. Instead, this writing seems to flaunt the superior morality of the writer, a person able to rise above the lowly rage and terror the rest of us are likely to have felt in his situation. SOS knows he didn’t mean to convey this, but precisely the use of super-abstract jargon like otherization suggests a weirdly disengaged, hyper-theoretical disposition …

There’s so much rape on college campuses, it can get very difficult to keep up with all of the stories.

In this article, Mother Jones just singles out the high-profile football-related rape stories over the last few decades. UD‘s favorites are

Louisiana State University, 1998: Star running back Cecil Collins was dismissed from the team after being accused of two sexual assaults in two weeks (the first was of a minor). He was sentenced to probation. That didn’t stop another football program, McNeese State, from offering him a full scholarship, or the Miami Dolphins from drafting him. “Charming and likable, he has, nonetheless, seen his collegiate football career derailed by sexual assault charges and failed drug tests,” the Sun-Sentinel reported in 1999. His career ended in 2001, when he was convicted of breaking into a woman’s home to watch her sleep.


Arizona State University, 2004: A female student working as a tutor for a summer program for football students sent an email to her supervisors about a freshman recruit: “I don’t want to get raped in college and that is what Darnel [Henderson] makes me feel like when he is around me.” By the end of the summer, ESPN reported, Henderson had been accused of sexually assaulting women in his dorm and exposing himself to female staffers. When confronted, his response was to tell a staff member that he felt he had to “show [women] their place.” The university’s response was to bow to head coach Dirk Koetter’s request that Henderson keep his scholarship. When Henderson was accused of rape by a different student a year later, ASU police mysteriously waited three weeks to interview him despite deciding internally that Henderson was probably guilty. A university administrator accompanied Henderson to his meeting with investigators, and when the case was submitted to Maricopa County, the district attorney declined to pursue the case. ASU administrators, meanwhile, tried to destroy incriminating evidence — like the fearful email. Koetter, who sought to get Henderson a scholarship to another top-tier college football program, was fired two years later because he couldn’t consistently beat top-25 opponents.

As the University of Virginia gang-rape story rages, UD will try to put it in context by doing this: Reminding you.


Of course the clever Rolling Stone writer chose UVa for her spell-binding story (she could have chosen almost any university) because of the irony. Schools like LSU (“Went in dumb/Come out dumb too.”) lack, er, valence when the lads go a-raping. You go after UVa because it’s convinced itself and everyone else it’s better than that.


By the way: Don’t tell me you can’t do anything with an English major.

As a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate, [Susan Rubin] Erdely discovered her passion for magazine writing while working at 34th Street, the magazine of the student-run Daily Pennsylvanian. She soon dropped her pre-med studies, graduated in 1994 with a degree in English…

You can change the world with an English major. You can use it to learn how to write like Sabrina Rubin Erdely. From her opening paragraphs:

She remembers the men’s heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.

As the last man sank onto her, Jackie was startled to recognize him: He attended her tiny anthropology discussion group. He looked like he was going to cry or puke as he told the crowd he couldn’t get it up. “Pussy!” the other men jeered. “What, she’s not hot enough for you?” Then they egged him on: “Don’t you want to be a brother?” “We all had to do it, so you do, too.” Someone handed her classmate a beer bottle. Jackie stared at the young man, silently begging him not to go through with it. And as he shoved the bottle into her, Jackie fell into a stupor, mentally untethering from the brutal tableau, her mind leaving behind the bleeding body under assault on the floor.

You think this article would have caught fire the way it has, would have left thousands of people – in the words of the UVa faculty – “heartbroken and enraged” if its author didn’t know not just which school to choose but how to write?

She knew to start not with statistics and histories, and not with outrage and disbelief, but right in the thick of the immediacy of the attack: Present tense for Jackie’s ongoing recall (“she remembers”), past for the sober precision of her narration, with the author adding nothing by way of emotion. With this sort of material, you park yourself in neutral and let the tale tell itself. This is what you learn if you study the greats – Orwell, Didion, Capote, Vidal.

You see how she’s opted against commas and semi-colons in the first sentence, in order to let the violent and confusing rush of the events re-present themselves? You see how she’s learned alliteration and assonance (last man sank) along the way, so that our inner ear enters into her poetic rhythm and keeps going?

She remembers the men’s heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.

Note also the repetition of remembers, which not only gives the recitation the feel of a mournful litany, but is psychologically true to the lifelong repetition-compulsion to which the rapists have sentenced their hazing object. She’ll circle around these moments forever. Note also that this sentence, with its close knowledge and recall of the rapists’ intimate and particular bodies, says more about the persuasiveness of her account than any lie detector could. It is viscerally compelling.

Erdely has also learned the importance of the powerfully telling detail: her tiny anthropology discussion group. Her tiny anthropology discussion group! Oh right, this is a university! Small serious select groups of young intellectuals gathering to talk about higher things – like about the way human beings act in groups! Well, she’s in a small group right now, and one of those human rituals is happening right in front of her. (“The men are on their own ‘turf,’ whether it be a part of a park, a shack, or a fraternity house. The identity of the woman is irrelevant. Anyone who happens to be at or near the premises will suffice. All the men drink a great deal of liquor. Then, in the presence of the entire group, each has sex in turn with the female. … While individually they probably would not engage in such brutal or degrading conduct, when reinforced by their companions they exhibit no sense of what most men and women consider decency or compassion.”) Come to UVa and don’t just book-learn about tribes! Our opportunities for experiential learning put you right in the middle of the lord of the flies.

And look at the subtleties you’re learning! You’re learning the masochistic anhedonia that underlies happyhappy male bonding, aren’t you? (“cry or puke”… “we all had to do it…”) You could read The Berlin Stories, say, if you wanted, at the tender age of eighteen, to understand this vicious mix… Or you could save time and visit one of our frats.

And the word tiny. The delicacy of that little word almost unbearably conveys the small hopefulness, the fresh modest eagerness, of this clueless, avid freshman from rural Virginia suddenly at the big fancy school full of handsome athletic older men in frats who wanted her! Wanted to go out with her!

Erdely ends the account, and this paragraph, with a riot of assonance/alliteration:

mentally untethering from the brutal tableau, her mind leaving behind the bleeding body under assault on the floor

A bit over the top stylistically? Maybe. If this had been Didion or Capote or Orwell they might have edited it, like this:

mentally untethering from the tableau, leaving behind the bleeding body on the floor

But when things are over-the-top lurid, your prose needs to rise to it, and Erdely has held her heavy verbal weaponry for the very last part of the account.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm Says: Oh, Goody. Finally an Honest Orwellian.

Finally a University of North Carolina insider willing to trot out the whole 2+2=5, War is Peace, routine! Anyone can condemn the football and basketball scandal at that school as America’s largest instance yet of the way big-time athletics destroys our universities, and indeed in the past couple of weeks everyone has – in a myriad of opinion pieces – done just that. Lawsuits are flying, alumni are pissed, heads are rolling, etc., etc. It’s Penn State all over again.

Only a few people, under these weighty circumstances, will have the guts to go against the grain.

SOS knew that such people would have to come out of UNC’s business school.

So say hello to Michael Jacobs. Mike, c’mon down! We’re gonna do a close scathe of your prose, because you’ve earned it.

Paragraph #1:

For years we have been hearing about the “athletic” or “academic-athletic” scandal at UNC. Maybe I am missing something, but where was the athletic scandal? Were teams shaving points? Were tennis players intentionally making bad line calls? Were soccer players taking performance-enhancing drugs? Were athletes competing on the field who were academically ineligible?

Establish a peeved, above-it-all, know-it-all tone from the outset and come out swinging. No apologies, no concessions. Your first paragraph should contain no use of the word football or basketball. You are going to concentrate instead on the sports that really matter at UNC, the high-profile revenue tennis and soccer teams.

Paragraph #2

No doubt, there has been a scandal at UNC. But what happened in Chapel Hill was an academic scandal. This is not just about semantics. How you characterize the problem dictates how you devise the solution.

Jacobs has copied the response to the scandal that the entire leadership of the school attempted before it couldn’t anymore: Nothing to see here sportswise! (Penn State tried exactly the same thing: It wasn’t an athletic or an academic scandal there: It was just this one creepy guy, Sandusky, who showed up on campus occasionally… ) The UNC scandal is simply about bad business practices, and I’m a biz school guy, so I should know. I’m all about getting it done, solving problems, and I’m going to let UNC in on how to get out of this mess because – I’m now going to share one of those impressive b-school insights – ‘How you characterize the problem dictates how you devise the solution.’

This crucial sentence should really be rendered as it appears in its natural PowerPoint presentation habitat:

How You Characterize The Problem DICTATES How You Devise The Solution.

Paragraph #3:

Athletes were not the only ones enrolled in bogus AFAM classes. They might have been the intended primary beneficiary, but the scandal appears to have been germinated and incubated by the academic side of the university. Paper classes were the brainchild of “academicians” in the college of arts and sciences.

The first sentence is correct, and it means not that the scandal therefore was only academic, but that the scandal was endemic to the university as such. That is, it operated throughout all aspects of the institution, including fraternities (frat boys were the other big beneficiaries of the hoax), athletics, administration, and faculty. The second two sentences are incorrect. The scandal was the brainchild of Deborah Crowder in association with coaches, the hilariously titled Academic Counselors, and Julius Nyang’oro. It seems to have enjoyed tacit acceptance everywhere, all the way up to the woman now chancellor at a sports-above-all sister school, University of Kansas.

Note also Jacobs’ penchant for quotation marks. They designate the can-do biz guy’s contempt for the enemy – intellectuality.

Paragraph #4:

The irony is that now a vocal group of UNC faculty members is questioning whether big-time athletics can co-exist with a prominent academic research institution. The corruption of athletics is tainting the pure quest for knowledge, they contend.

SOS says: This is fine. He’s extending his point about stoopid “academicians.” But she would urge Jacobs, on rewriting, to put the words tainting and pure in quotation marks as well. Like this:

The corruption of athletics is “tainting” the “pure” quest for knowledge, they contend.

SOS knows what you’re saying. Put corruption in quotation marks too! But three q.m.’s in one sentence is too many, she contends.

Paragraph #5

The simple answer is yes they can co-exist, as they do at reputable institutions all across the country, if the academicians will run the academic program with integrity.

Here we see the cut through all the bullshit approach of the b-school boys. Simple, pragmatic, nothing fancy, just square your shoulders and get the job done. All you need is the guts, and unfortunately academicians are gutless. Notice that we’re in the fifth paragraph and the words football and basketball have still not appeared. Certainly reputable institutions across the country have been able to run their tennis and soccer programs with integrity. UNC can too, and this is how:

Paragraph #6:

The breakdown at UNC was due to a lack of appropriate controls and accountability systems within the college of arts and sciences. The primary gestation period for this scandal occurred under the watch of a chancellor who was a musician. While universities need scholars in all areas, including music, music is probably not the optimal background to manage a complex $1.5 billion organization.

Cherchez le musicien! You can get some pansy who fiddles while Rome burns, or you can bring in me and the boys to clean up the mess. It’s your choice! It’s your funeral! It’s your Requiem! Your complex organization (suddenly all that stuff about simple has become complex) needs Men, not Mice.

Okay, we’ll skip a bit, as Brother Maynard says.

Here’s the heart of the thing:

Many in the college of arts and sciences squirmed because [the new post-scandal provost] did not come from among their ranks. The fact that he was an expert in organizational control systems and accountability rather than romance languages made some faculty members uneasy. But Chancellor Folt had defined the problem correctly.

It was all those violinists with French poems dancing in their heads who did this to us, who dragged our fine complex institution into the dust! If you want to clean things up, you obviously have to go to the money guys!

Perhaps the scholars in Chapel Hill who are screaming from the mountaintop that we need to purge our research universities of athletics should pause, take a deep breath and internalize an insight from that great scholar Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and they are us.” The best scholars don’t make the best administrators.

Bravo, says SOS. Jacobs has managed to write an entire opinion piece about football and basketball at UNC without ever mentioning either sport. He has also failed to mention the existence of athletic directors and coaches — the people who, as more and more players now attest, ran the scam from on high for twenty years.

I mean, it’s very odd, isn’t it? The fact is that UNC has been following Jacobs’ advice for ages, and that indeed the athletic program was run brilliantly, generating massive profits and wins. So what happened?

What happened is something that the Jacobs model, to its everlasting peril, overlooks. What happened is that one rogue academician squealed. Mary Willingham is what happened, and no university management system, however complexly and pragmatically run, can control for the rare, bizarre emergence of an honest, non-Orwellian person in its midst.

The only way to control for the enemy within is indeed, to use Jacobs’ appropriately Orwellian word, to purge her. So this is how SOS would suggest revising the piece. Add this.

The screaming scholars of Chapel Hill have it exactly backwards: We don’t need to purge our research universities of athletics. We need to purge our athletics of research universities.


To understand big-time university sports, you have to go beyond the headlines. UD spends a lot of time reading the local booster press at pitiably sports-obsessed places like Indiana University so that she can understand the deep structure of a significant part of this country’s grotesque (the recent failures of Penn State and the University of North Carolina to, uh, control their narratives has contributed immeasurably to our recognition of just how grotesque) university system. So take this latest piece out of Bloomington, which announces its grasp of reality in its headline. Let us see how that reality is evoked.

The background here is that everyone in Bloomington has decided to be upset because some mysterious critical mass of team criminality has flicked some switch in their collective mind. Should they fire the coach? Would that be with cause or without cause? What’s the deal with recruiting anyhow? Have we tarnished our grand reputation? Und so weiter.

Start with coacha inconsolata (background on that term here).

[The] mess in Bloomington [has occurred under Coach Tom Crean’s] watch … [He’s a] grown man unable to keep his teenage players from chasing the night — no matter how hard he tries.

This great and good man has tried and tried and tried. Let’s not talk about how the same man avidly recruited these players.

Next: Lugubrious nostalgia for The Earlier Better Coach, The True Great and Good Man. Unfortunately for this writer, that role at Indiana is played by notorious Bobby Knight, the most frighteningly demento university basketball coach ever. So let’s see how we handle that prose-wise, in our reality-based account of things.

Bob Knight may be long gone, and though he didn’t live a life of sainthood in Bloomington, he drafted … [the] “It’s Indiana” blueprint. It’s a privilege to wear the candy stripes. And with it comes responsibility, higher standards, round-the-clock commitments. It’s not easy. It’s not always fun. But it’s what’s expected.

I mean, which of us is a saint? Which of us hasn’t experienced a rage so intense we’ve thrown a chair at referees during a basketball game and then because of our general aspect of insane obscene violence been thrown out of the game? A game we’re coaching? And this is the man who drafted the blueprint that for some reason players aren’t following. What’s wrong with them? Can’t they follow an example?

Now to the defense of the players themselves.

Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson… when they weren’t failing drug tests, were putting in the work and getting better.

So it’s another mixed bag, like Bobby Knight: Putting in the work, chair-tossing, drugging… Throw it all in together and you get a storied team!

There are two final elements of all booster journalism:

1. Biblical quotations.

“He talked about how we are our brothers’ keeper.” The athletic director describes the coach’s recent pep talk.

2. Always calling the players “kids” and invoking an inspiring future with them.

The kids … will forge onward this season.


To review: These are the basic elements of university sports booster journalism:

* Coacha inconsolata

* Players are children; the coach is their hapless adorable bumbling dad

* Great times lie ahead

* Nostalgic reminder of our grand tradition

* Biblical quotation reminds us God is on our side

* Gotta take the good with the bad, balance the failed drug tests with the work ethic

The only thing missing here is the otherwise very popular Comparative Approach. We’re pretty scummy, but Florida State is so much scummier. Scathing Online Schoolmarm recommends the writer revise and extend his remarks to include the Comparative Approach. Then he will have written a comprehensive account of Reality in Bloomington.

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