Okay, so your honorary degree recipients and your coaches are assholes.

It happens. When La Kid graduated from George Washington University, now-disgraced honorary degree awardee Brian Williams gave an address in which he lectured UD on personal ethics.

UD‘s kinda hurt because Williams lied to her in his speech: He said it doesn’t pay to cheat, but it does pay to cheat, and he knows it cuz he’s back at his old job after suffering only un p’tit peu for being a cheat.

University coaches are of course – if they’re any good at all – cheaters. Americans know this and love them for it. Coaches do what they have to do to get ahead, just like Brian Williams.

It almost always does pay to cheat in college sports. Wins matter more than integrity. This isn’t exactly a revelation. As Jerry Tarkanian used to say, “Nine out of 10 schools are cheating. The other one is in last place.” …Cheating pays. We’ve learned this from roided-up baseball players who walked away with tens of millions of dollars, and from white-collar criminals whose sentences paled in comparison to those of small-time crack dealers.

You can blame it on a toothless NCAA, or on a college sports system that values the almighty dollar over platitudes of integrity, or on an American culture that values winning over all else.

I’ll call it something else: The fact that schools cheat – and that they get away with it – is a natural result of the odd marriage in America between big-money athletics and academics.

The reference up there to white collar criminals reminds me of one of my all-time favorite commencement speeches, from Allen Greenspan to the young eager hedgies of Wharton. It’s a fascinating address rhetorically. Greenspan knows he’s talking to many of the most-honed, highest-level cheaters America has to offer the world, people who can barely stay seated in their chair before peeling off and starting a Ponzi scheme; and indeed he knows that the background of his talk is the most recent immense number of immense American corporate scandals… So what’s he going to say? Isn’t it all rather… futile….?

I do not deny that many appear to have succeeded in a material way by cutting corners and manipulating associates, both in their professional and in their personal lives. But material success is possible in this world, and far more satisfying, when it comes without exploiting others. The true measure of a career is to be able to be content, even proud, that you succeeded through your own endeavors without leaving a trail of casualties in your wake.

All the herbal viagra in the world won’t make this less limp.

Just as it’s especially amusing to watch the winningest coaches shovel the moral shit in their books and speeches, it’s a special treat to watch income inequality’s biggest boosters dish out the do-goodery.

The only trouble mondo cheato ever runs into is when pesky university students decide to get all judgmental about some of the important inspirational people on their campus. It bothers Yalies that Bill Cosby has an honorary degree that their school refuses to revoke. Why does it refuse to revoke Cosby’s degree? Yale says two things in response to this question:

1. It’s never revoked a degree before. (And we all know that timid backwater places like Yale can never do anything new.)

2. It doesn’t want to talk about it. Shut up.

UD rather admires Yale’s unwillingness even to try to argue the point. (Northwestern, where UD was an undergrad, is also opting for silence.) Tons of universities have revoked Cosby’s honorary degrees, and they’ve stated their reasons, but Yale’s like eh I don’t know didn’t I tell you to shut up? It’s like Yale acknowledges what UD has been saying which is like Hello? Everybody’s an asshole and the biggest assholes get honorary degrees. Nuff said.

One university leader has, however, been willing to go there. One leader has ignored the wisdom of the keep-mum crowd and gone there. Let us consider Stephen Trachtenberg’s opinion piece in the campus newspaper. Scathing Online Schoolmarm will interrupt his sentences with her commentary.


‘I was the GW president back in the day when we gave Bill Cosby an honorary degree. At the time, he was arguably the most popular Commencement speaker of my tenure. His remarks at graduation were received with an ovation. All attending cheered him. He was celebrated for his contributions to American culture and for his comic genius. [Spectacular dude. Was his dissertation majorly bogus? Should this matter to a university like yours as it honors him? Nah.]

It would appear, on the basis of information only now revealed, that he had, in addition to his artistic gifts, a dark and troubling and tragic hidden side. [Tragic. Da guy’s a regular Hamlet already!] Had we known of that we would not have awarded him plaudits. But we did not.

All today seem well-informed of Mr. Cosby’s seemingly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. His life and reputation lie in tatters. One can only speculate on the mental health issues that may underlie the behavior that numerous women have reported regarding Mr. Cosby. [There, there. It’s all about his tragic mental issues. Let’s not get all moral about this… But UD can’t help wondering: Why didn’t Mr Cosby, during the century or so during which he drugged and assaulted women, consult someone about his troubling behavior? I guess had he known that he had psychological problems he would not have attacked all those women. But he did not.]

People of accomplishment can, as we know, also have criminal or evil characteristics. I think of Ezra Pound, a man of towering poetic, artistic and critical gifts, and a fascist war criminal who lived out his life in a prison hospital. [Yes. Pound was punished for what he did. And again unlike Cosby, Pound was indeed clinically insane. That’s why he was in a prison hospital. His Bollingen Prize was so controversial that Congress ended – revoked, if you like – the involvement of the Library of Congress in that award program.]

What good would it do to void Mr. Cosby’s diploma? Who actually celebrates it today? He is revealed and reviled. I am not keen on trying to rewrite history. We must own our past and learn from it. There is no Platonic device for awarding honors. We do our best to celebrate the good. We work with the best information available. But being human, we have erred in the past and will no doubt do so again in the future. [Enough platitudes for you? Mr Trachtenberg needs to go back and think about the many forms of public rejection, retraction, and revocation which have been a feature of the moral life of this country – and this country’s traditions – from the beginning. It does a lot of moral good – by way of clarification of one’s principles, and official removal from the community of people who seriously offend it – to void awards whose conferral turns out to have been a sick joke.]

We need to redouble our efforts to avoid such failures of judgement in the years to come but must in humility appreciate our limitations and permit experience to inform our thinking. There is a rough charm to the proposal that we should recall our degree from Mr. Cosby, but it is a blunt instrument that does not do real justice to the dreadful challenge it seeks to address. It does not actually get to right. It provides no real comfort to the abused. [How do you know? Have you heard what the abused have said? The obscenity of their attacker having been protected and even celebrated by the culture has featured prominently in their suffering. One of the reasons it took so long for law enforcement to catch up with Cosby was his many-laureled cultural identity, an identity to which GW contributed.]

Mr. Cosby knows that we no longer esteem him. Everybody knows. He is down. He is out. The degree is as null and void as it can be. It is self-executing. However much he may deserve it, I am disinclined to kick him again to underscore our own virtue. It’s too easy.’ [Oh yes, it’s just our virtue-narcissism at play. How contemptible of us.]

Summa Trumpologica

Frank Rich writes a grand synthesis of university-president-cum-presidential-candidate Donald Trump here. In a literate and amusing analysis of Trump’s lineage and appeal, Rich does not forget to mention his intellectual chops, a subject of abiding interest on a blog called University Diaries:

That “pledge” [not to run as a third party candidate] served Trump’s immediate goal of securing his spot on primary ballots, but come next year it will carry no more weight than a certificate from the now-defunct Trump University.

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.


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.

Thomas Jefferson, Pat Robertson, and Donald Trump:

These three American presidential candidates all founded universities. Jefferson, who of course went on to become president, established the University of Virginia. Robertson, who ran but failed to become president, founded Regent University. Trump, currently running, founded Trump University.


Go to the University of Arizona Tucson.

Real testimony on the experience of attending South Carolina State University.

When I was a student/athlete at then-SCSC, I witnessed increased donations in the athletic department but we as students got nothing. We went from flying to events and games to riding a bus for 15 to 20 hours while coaches received increased salaries, bought new houses and cars, and continued to travel by air. Large donations presented at halftime during footballs games were not spent on the science department as indicated at the time of presentation.

I must say I love SCSU, but the mismanagement of funds has negatively affected enrollment and has caused a decrease in donations from alumni. SCSU, a historically black college, has in years past been a very respected institution, but the actions of deceitful people in power have caused many who would have chosen SCSU to go elsewhere.

This is what legislators deciding the school’s fate really need: Direct testimony from honest people who’ve been there. Of all the things said in the last couple of weeks about SCSU, UD finds this the most persuasive and the most moving.

A university is a delicate thing; a university means an enormous amount on many levels to many of its graduates. When a regime of greed and deceit sets in on campus (I’m looking at you, Yeshiva University), these graduates, wounded and angry, pull back. Word gets around. Contributions and applications tank.

Schools like these need completely new presidents and boards of trustees. And that’s only a first step.

The President on Schools like South Carolina State University.

According to [Congressional Black Caucus] members, [President Obama recently told them] that struggling HBCUs with low graduation rates are failing black students, and he reportedly said that the lowest-performing institutions “should fall by the wayside.”

Under an existential threat to the school, South Carolina State University is able to gather fewer than thirty people to a rally.

The turnout strengthens the arguments of those in the legislature who point out that there’s no there there.

UD recommends that SCSU stop holding rallies.

UD’s mouth fell open in disbelief YEARS ago about South Carolina State University.

You can follow her many posts about this staggeringly pointless institution by typing South Carolina State University in her search engine. She has often wondered aloud, on this blog, why the chump taxpayers of that state don’t en masse refuse to pay up until SCSU, with its virtually non-existent student body and its corrupt leadership, is shut down.

Now a state subcommittee has indeed voted to close the money pit, though higher level votes are needed to really make this happen. As proposed, the closure would be temporary; but the measure would almost certainly hasten the natural evolution of the campus toward extinction. You cannot function without students and without money. Taxing citizens year after year in order to transfer revenue to an empty outstretched hand is insane.

And speaking of transfer: Under the plan, SCSU students with respectable GPAs would be free to transfer to other state campuses. They may thus have an actual shot at an education.

He’s B-a-a-a-a-ck!

Or he will be soon. UD has been waiting with bated breath for Arthur Porter – former head of the McGill University hospitals – to be extradited back to Canada (he’s been in a Panamanian prison for a year or so) to face corruption charges. His wife has already pled guilty to money laundering; he faces charges of having drummed up the money (22.5 million!!) via bribes from the company he chose to build a new hospital for the university.

Porter’s a real character; he has much to teach us about the varieties of responses available to people accused of massive corruption.

He has, for instance, claimed to be on the very brink of death from cancer for about three years. And he’s a doctor! He should know!

UD knows there’s more where that came from.

Background on Porter? Type arthur porter in my search engine.

UD thanks Dennis, a reader, for linking her to the latest revelations in the UVa rape case.

The Washington Post’s interviews with the three friends of “Jackie” who rallied around her in the immediate aftermath of events make clear that all three are skeptical of her claims.

Even more ominously:

[P]hotographs that were texted to one of the friends showing her date that night were actually pictures depicting one of Jackie’s high school classmates in Northern Virginia. That man, now a junior at a university in another state, confirmed that the photographs were of him and said he barely knew Jackie and hasn’t been to Charlottesville for at least six years.

UVa/Rolling Stone: An Update, an Interesting Idea, and a Bit of Self-Analysis.

Says here that Rolling Stone will entirely re-report the now-notorious “Jackie” piece (UD assumes this means a group of RS editors will re-report the piece?), a project that will involve “head[ing] to UVa both to sort through the errors of the story and to tell readers what actually happened.”

Indeed, as Joseph Heller put it, Something Happened. It’s even possible that we’ll find out much more precisely what.


Some people believe “Rolling Stone was credulous about such an intense story because from factcheckers to editors to writers they are predisposed to believe the worst about fraternity brothers at an elite university.”

I suppose this goes to a culture clash idea: The argument would be that you’ve got brainy lefty hipsters who write stuff like this about Goldman Sachs, versus a fratful of future Mr Goldman Sachs… Sachses…

Maybe. UD thinks it may have more to do with the Huguely factor — UVa was attractive and … plausible… to the writer of the piece and to the factcheckers and editors and writers because as recently as last March Huguely’s murder of his girlfriend was still in the news.


And why, UD has been asking herself, was she so “credulous about such an intense story”?

First of all, as I said above, something traumatically assaultive did happen. At this point, this seems to me beyond doubt, though of course we could turn out to be living in the sort of Kafkan world in which the whole damn thing is a lie… I’ll just say again that this seems to me wildly unlikely. So I was credulous because there was credible material in the story.

Second, though, and pertinent only to me: I was perhaps borne along by the prose. It didn’t occur to me, as I praised the article’s writing, that the writing was maybe too good, too perfectly lurid. I was captured, as they say, by the style, and as a result I take on the coloration of Gwendolyn: “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”

The Washington Post Now Reports Serious Problems with the UVa Rape Story as Recounted in Rolling Stone.

Apparently the woman at the center of the case has told conflicting versions of the story.

The fraternity, too, will soon begin defending itself against her claims.


A note from Rolling Stone. UD thanks Chris, a reader, for the link.


I should have been more skeptical.

The Faceless Institution

The overwhelming majority of fraternity men are not rapists nor would they ever consider committing or condoning sexual violence, but as President Sullivan said on Monday, “There is great concern that a sexual predator can hide out in a fraternity, and therefore that fraternal social activities pose literal dangers to their guests.” This has nothing to do with whether fraternities contain a vast majority of good people (I have no doubt they do). It has everything to do with the fact that fraternities have houses with unwatched upstairs and padlocked doors, the ability to widely distribute unidentifiable mixed drinks to unknowing first-year girls and national organizations with comprehensive systems for deflecting liability. A rapist on a college campus is three times more likely to participate in a fraternity than not and sorority women are 74 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted than nonaffiliated women. Again, whether most people in fraternities are well-meaning individuals is beside the point; the faceless institutions in which these good people exist are flawed.

Closing Law Schools, Fraternities, Football Programs…

… It’s drinking-up time at the American university, and although we know all conditioned things are impermanent, a lot of people seem really, really pissed about it.

Yes, yes, only one football program has actually shut down.

As for fraternities [aka eat or be eaten clubs, dahling]: Like vampires, they cannot truly be killed. Fraternities can be suspended while crews hose down the vomit, but they almost always come back to haze again, until once again they are suspended, etc.

Even when a school or a national organization officially shutters them, fraternities live on as rogue operations just off campus.

Fraternities will never authentically be threatened with extinction. They are too important to the nation. The behaviors and attitudes you learn at a fraternity are structural to the leadership of America’s elite financial organizations. Fraternities are not about college; they are about Goldman Sachs.

And on law schools… How has it come to this? Can we actually be about to witness the shuttering of some of them?


It’s all about the tragic confluence of the we’ll accredit your Aunt Tillie’s ass ABA, the ne touche pas my salary and course load law professioriate, and a collapsed job market.

In response to the collapsed job market, the ABA continues to accredit new schools.

I know you think that this cannot possibly be true, but it is. Every ten seconds the ABA accredits a new American law school.

Well, not every ten seconds. But frequently.

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