American University Football: Another Day, Another Multiple Dismissal

Last week it was Florida State; this week it’s San Jose State. Both universities have dumped two football players in the same week because of violence, though at FSU they’re like totally into beating women up, while at SJSU it’s a combo play: One guy beat a woman up, and the other guy hit a fellow player in the head with a skateboard. So hard that the guy’s in the hospital with broken facial bones. It was “a reaction to some displeasure with how [the player he hit] was encouraging his teammate during the team’s workout earlier Tuesday.”

The Future of an Illusion

Today the American universities not only form the best system of higher education in the world, but are morally impressive institutions. They are not incoherent, nor are they in crisis.

Well, I guess this ain’t Allan Bloom.

No, it’s UD‘s hero, Richard Rorty.

She likes Bloom, but she likes Rorty more.

Her other heroes? The two Christophers: Christopher Lasch and Christopher Hitchens.

Albert Camus. George Orwell. Philip Rieff. Tony Judt.

Can we derive some coherence from these dead white males? Can we say why the same human being would swoon reading both hyper-righties and hyper-lefties? (And weren’t Lasch and Hitchens sort of both?) Why the same human being would applaud when Rorty says universities aren’t in crisis, and when Bloom says they are?

Do we want simply to say, with Gwendolyn, that ‘In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.’? Because all of these men wrote well (Rieff wrote like a jerk, yes, but not all the time. Not in his earlier days.), and some of them (Orwell) wrote insanely well.

No. Surely we want to grant UD a tad more depth than this. It’s not merely about writing style. Yet writing style is part of it. These men are all impassioned moralists, impassioned social justice warriors, and their prose shows it. Their prose has the sort of kick you get when you actually care about what you’re saying, when you believe that language is politics and that politics is how you decrease human suffering. It’s very much like what George Saunders says in an appreciation of E.L. Doctorow:

What I found particularly inspiring about Doctorow was the way he would tweak form to produce moral-ethical effect — the way that he seemed not to see these two things as separate. Reading his great “Ragtime,” for example, I can feel that all of that technical verve is there necessarily — to serve and escalate meaning and emotion. But as important — the verve serves and escalates the fun, the riveting sense that a particular and wonderful human mind is having a great time riffing on the things of this world, trying to make sense of them. The work exudes fascination with the human, and a wry confidence in it, and inspires these feelings in us as we read. Doctorow, we might say, role-models a hopeful stance toward what can be a terrifying world.

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In the same remarks of his I quote from at the beginning of this post, Rorty says:

If I were writing a history of the American university, I would tell an upbeat story about the gradual replacement of the churches by the universities as the conscience of the nation. One of the most important things that happened in the U.S. in the twentieth century was that the universities became the places where movements for the relief of human suffering found privileged sanctuaries and power bases. The universities came to play a social role that they had not played in the nineteenth century.

An impassioned atheist, Rorty reveres the American university as the place where arts- and sciences-inspired free and democratic discourse about the world and how to improve it, and about humanity and how to know and love it, thrives. The university is where we gather to read and talk about morally charged language, like Doctorow’s.

***************

Remember what Bartlett Giamatti called the university: a free and ordered space. When Rorty calls the university “not incoherent,” he doesn’t mean it’s coherent, as in fully pulled together, fully ordered and organized around some shared principle or faith. (And as readers of this blog know, once a university decides to organize itself around Joe Paterno, forfuckinggetit.) He means it’s coherent enough – it’s ordered enough to be free enough to generate the sorts of conversations, readings, and experiences that tend to make people (students, professors, readers of the research professors and students generate) more lucid and more compassionate. And more free, rather in the way of, as Saunders puts it, having fun — being part of a classroom where people are experiencing “the riveting sense that a particular and wonderful human mind is having a great time riffing on the things of this world, trying to make sense of them.” That mind, in the university setting, is a collective one, made up of the free and at the same time ordered synergy between a professor and her students.

***************

All of this is by way of background for a few comments on this intriguing opinion piece in today’s New York Times.

Kevin Carey is clearly on Bloom’s side. This is his opening paragraph:

To understand the failures of the modern American college system — from admissions marketing to graduation rates — you can begin with a notorious university football scandal.

So we’re going to talk about Chapel Hill as emblematic of what has made American universities a failure. Not just a failure – a nothing. An illusion. Carey’s title: The Fundamental Way that Universities are an Illusion. Later in the piece he will talk about them as Easter eggs – beautiful on the outside, dead on the inside.

The Nyang’oro fraud went on as long as it did because

U.N.C. had essentially no system for upholding the academic integrity of courses. “So long as a department was offering a course,” one distinguished professor told the investigators, “it was a legitimate course.” … The illusory university pretends that all professors are guided by a shared sense of educational excellence specific to their institution. In truth, as the former University of California president Clark Kerr observed long ago, professors are “a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.”… When college leaders talk about academic standards, they often mean admissions standards, not standards for what happens in classrooms themselves. Or they vaguely appeal to traditions and shared values without any hard evidence of their meaning… The problem for students is that it is all but impossible to know ahead of time which part of the disunified university is which. [And the problem for faculty is that this] kind of profound dissonance can knock askew the moral compasses of people who have ostensibly dedicated their professional lives to education. How else to explain the many people at Chapel Hill — including, incredibly, the director of a center on ethics — who abetted or ignored rampant fraud?

It’s the free and ordered thing again. Carey believes the freedom Rorty identifies in the American university has dissipated into disorder, so that anything goes in terms of pedagogical content, which makes the world safe for the endemic cheating we know goes on at virtually all big-time sports schools. At such schools – the cutting edge, Carey seems to argue, of the frayed American university – even faculty – even ethics faculty – are cheaters. And why? Because they recognize “no shared values,” no “shared sense of educational excellence,” that would give existential identity, much less academic integrity, to the place where they happen to work.

In response to this, I’d like to cite Rorty once again:

In one sense, [the term “morality”] is used to describe someone relatively decent, trustworthy, and honest – one who gives correct change, keeps promises, doesn’t lie much, can usually be relied upon to take an appropriate share in cooperative efforts, and so on. It seems to me if you’re not that sort of person by the time you’re eighteen, it’s probably too late. I don’t think that sociopaths who enter the university are corrigible by any measures that the academy might adopt. If the family, the community, the church, and the like, haven’t made you a relatively decent member of society, haven’t given you a conscience that stops you from cheating the customers, administering date rape drugs, or doing a lot of things we hope our eighteen year olds won’t do, the university won’t either. The academy can’t take on the job of straightening you out, of creating the conscience that the rest of the culture didn’t manage to produce during your first eighteen years.

This is the same point UD tirelessly makes about the absurdity of ethics courses in business schools – and those are older students. They’ve had four or five years past undergraduate school to acquire a sense of decency.

And how much more hopeless when you’re whatever age professors Jan Boxhill and Julius Nyang’oro were when they dedicated year after year of their lives to robbing students of an education and trashing their school’s integrity…

Carey wants us to believe that the openness of their work setting, the structural trust of faculty and students upon which the maturity and generativity of the American university rests, knocked askew the fragile moral compasses of Boxhill and Nyang’oro. But that trust did nothing to their morality because they lacked morality all by themselves; they were the sort of people who take advantage of the trust others place in them, and the openness of the American university simply made it easier for them to do the sorts of things they do because of the way they are. UD doesn’t think we should press the great free liberal arts schools of America in the direction of moral explicitness and constraint merely because some of the people there are bad actors.

“Simkin … loved to pity and to poke fun at the same time. He was a Reality-Instructor.”

This is from Saul Bellow’s Herzog, describing a hard-nosed friend of Moses who enjoys lecturing him about The Real World. Simkin sees Herzog as a head in the clouds dreamy idealistic type who because he’s not watching out for reality will always crash into it and fuck up his life:

I’m a greedy old money-grubber — I don’t claim I’m a candi­date for sainthood, but . . . Well, that’s just the frenzy of the world. Maybe you don’t always take cognizance, Professor, being absorbed in the true the good and the beautiful like Herr Goethe.

Ever since the multiple woman bashing incidents on the Florida State University football team, we’ve had a rash of Reality-Instructors. Their job is to tell us what’s up, what the deal is, the lay of the land, the facts on the ground, prevailing conditions, the stone cold sober truth. On the subject of big-time university football.

UD‘s favorite Reality Instructor so far is this guy. From his title (Let’s Stop Pretending FSU is Different Than Anyone Else) to his final paragraph, this guy has some cold water to throw on our assumption that universities are universities.

His main point is that all the other jockshops recruit with arrant disregard when it comes to criminal records and things like that. Why should FSU be any different? It’s not as if universities are about moral values or something. (And don’t even ask about intellectual values…) Get with the program, fool!

[This is what bothers me most about criticism of the coach]: The idea that he should be blamed for recruiting these kids at all.

It’s preposterous.

I mean, we’re all adults here, right? We know how the world works.

College football is a billion-dollar business. Virtually every coach in the Power 5 conferences is a multi-millionaire. These universities are making anywhere from 20 to 40 million dollars with these new TV deals.

With big money comes big pressure. And these coaches – all of these coaches – try to get the best players possible to come help them win football games at their respective schools. Many times that means recruiting kids from rough cities with tough backgrounds. It’s just the nature of the sport.

To the rest of the country though it’s Florida State that has become the poster child for what is wrong with college football. Wins trump everything else in Tallahassee. It’s all Fisher cares about. It’s all the community cares about. It’s the only thing that matters.

What I find fascinating — and just a bit ironic — is how [the coach] and FSU are vilified for this culture while not a peep was written or spoken about what happened in Gainesville last year.

The everybody does it argument always has as accompaniment

1.) they’re just as bad; and/or

2.) they’re worse.

UD had read long, long comment threads in which fans compulsively compare their team’s vileness to the slightly greater vileness of this or that other team. In this case, Gainesville – the University of Florida – is trotted out to demonstrate that very bad actors and cynical multimillionaire coaches are equally distributed among America’s institutes of higher learning, so why pick on us?

Ball State University Makes UD’s Head Spin.

So jockshop Ball State takes huge amounts of money from students to pay for a pathetic football program whose games they ignore. So what. That describes many American universities.

Yet see if you can make sense of these comments from a member of the board of trustees.

“We lost money last year… We’re going to lose money every year unless we have some unreasonable sponsor come forward and until we have 15,000 people paying for tickets to football games.”

Unreasonable? What does the trustee mean?

“I’m not saying it’s right,” said [the trustee], owner of Sport Graphics Inc., an Indianapolis company that works with clients like the NCAA, several collegiate athletic conferences, the 2012 Super Bowl, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Indiana Pacers. “I’m not saying schools should be seen more in favor for winning football championships or being in tournaments than having Rhodes scholars. But I am saying if you’re going to have athletic programs we’ve got to do our best to support it.”

Oh baby… if loving you is wrong… I don’t wanna be right…

England.

How quaint!

I’m sorry, but in this as in so many things, we are so much farther along.

Plus they’re missing a whole world of guns.

Tennessee.

[The University of Tennessee football team] had to hit a 930 score in the APR report that covered a rolling four-year period from 2009-10 through 2012-13. It was going to be difficult. They made a 932…

[The coach] described it as “the greatest win in the history of Tennessee football that nobody knows about.

Yeah, nobody knows about it because no one cares. It’s only their education.

Hence the article writer’s need to remind us:

The university is, at its core, an educational institution, not a sports franchise.

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The University of Tennessee, one of the most farcical sports stalwarts of this blog (go ahead and type university tennessee in my search engine) is about to have far more to worry about than that silly APR thing.

FAMU is more famous for its …

marching band, but details like these are pretty newsworthy too.

There have been four athletic directors and three head football coaches in the past 12 months.

For an approximately two-week overlapping period, the university had two entire football coaching staffs; this resulted in an additional $55,000.

FSU: Too Dangerous

I got an email earlier this week from the mother of an Orlando high school senior who is in the process of selecting her college…

“We recently toured FSU and the violence against women by the players was in the forefront of my mind, therefore putting FSU at the bottom of my list,” the mother wrote. “I do not want to send my daughter to a school where her safety is at risk due to other students with a violent past.”

Florida State University: On its way to being Lord of the Flies U.

The Trembling President

… I don’t really blame Saban; I blame Alabama’s school president for allowing a football coach carte blanche on what players are admitted into the university. The same goes for presidents at Florida State, Florida, Clemson and the countless other schools that recruited Dalvin Cook, the star FSU running back who was arrested recently and charged with punching a woman outside a Tallahassee bar.

According to records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Cook was arrested as a juvenile on two separate charges – one involving a robbery and another involving possessing and firing a weapon on school property.

Question: Don’t colleges and college presidents have a responsibility to protect their student bodies by not admitting football players who might be a threat to fellow students?

Mike Bianchi reminds us that jockshops like Clemson, etc., do have presidents. Admittedly these people do little other than attend football games and perform acts of obeisance to their head coach. (And fill out institutional assessment forms.) But just as a cat may look at a king, so a jockshop president may overcome his awareness of his microscopic salary compared to the salary of the coach and beg a few words with Nick or Jimbo about his quest for the biggest, most violent undergrads in America.

[S]everal years ago … Miami recruited Willie Williams, a prep-All-America linebacker from South Florida who was arrested 11 times as a juvenile.

UM President Donna Shalala, in an attempt to justify the signing, wrote in a letter to school boosters: “Mr. Williams is one of us — a son of Miami. We have a special obligation, relationship and commitment to the young people of our South Florida community. We want them to continue to think of us as a place of academic excellence and opportunity.”

Shalala’s letter may be the biggest pile of pabulum in college football history.

That makes me nostalgic. Here at University Diaries we had a hell of a good time following Shalala’s hyper-criminalized University of Miami, and fact is we miss her.

Interesting analogy.

A sports commentator talks about campus life at Florida State University.

[T]here just isn’t a way to keep this kind of stuff from happening.

Not on a football team, a basketball team, on a college campus, or anywhere. If there were, guess what? We’d have stopped all of it by now. If you murder somebody and get caught, you know you’re going to prison for the rest of your life, but that doesn’t stop people from committing murder, does it?

Sources tell UD that Florida State University has hired…

… Dominique Strauss-Kahn to help it over its, um, hump. Apparently DSK will advise FSU to move its campus to France, where “internationally acclaimed philosophers will defend your players.”

“It is what we, as Americans, want them to be.”

Their ability to be violent was a vital aspect of what made them who they are as a person and they are celebrated for being that kind of man. It is how they are taught to relate to one another. It is what we, as Americans, want them to be… What really makes us feel sick is the moral contradiction: the men who perform the acts we celebrate under the bright lights of a football stadium are the same men who perform other acts that we would denigrate and punish away from the spotlight. The thought that we are all complicit fuels our revulsion and consequently our denial.

The denial exists on multiple levels. You don’t want to admit that your demand for violence has produced amazing rates of chronic traumatic encephalopathy either, do you?

“This is now the fourth (and perhaps fifth) documented arrest and/or allegation involving a FSU football player committing an act of violence against a women over a three-year period: Karlos Williams, Jameis Winston, Greg Dent, De’Andre Johnson and Dalvin Cook.”

The hits just keep coming.

“Florida State University president John Thrasher on Monday actually addressed the football program to tell all of them to …

… stop punching women.”

— I WILL DO SUCH THINGS — !!

It’s outrage-season at Florida State University, with professors tweeting and students petitioning against a big bad world of people saying mean things about their school and their football team.

For the last ten years FSU has been dominated as an institution by one of the foulest football programs in America, featuring academic cheaters, abusers of women, and a rabid fan base that won’t hear one word against the program. Overseeing the foulness have been cynical coaches, presidents drawn from the football team or the corrupt state legislature, professors who for years have offered cheating-friendly online courses, trustees who are either ex-FSU football players or rich FSU football boosters, and a local law enforcement establishment happy to look the other way. As FSU football racks up more and more player assaults against women, even a sports-loving country has started laughing at the hopeless endless vileness of the enterprise that enables them.

Rather than, say, suspend the program and collectively ask itself where its university went, FSU has deepened the hilarity. Its president, a man who hasn’t exactly been morally punctilious when it comes to the team, has now drawn himself up to his full height and sternly lectured the lads on good and evil. (“FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has suspended both Cook and Johnson from the team – a nice touch after he refused to suspend Winston when he was under investigation – and has pledged to ‘do better.’ University president John Thrasher backed up his coach, saying that he has ‘no tolerance for the type of behavior alleged in these cases.’ Well, except for that one time when an alleged rapist played quarterback and led the ‘Noles to a 26-1 record over the last two years. Then, John Thrasher can find a way to build up tolerance.”) One of his players has entertained the country with his own Before and After: Filmed one day unhesitatingly smashing a woman in the face, he was filmed a few days later clutching his mother’s hand and gazing into the camera on Good Morning America.

And now FSU students and professors join the fun, registering shock and awe in the face of the world’s disgust with their long-running farce.

This is a runaway university. Maybe someone there has the sense to try to stop it before it crashes.

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