The editorial board of the New York Times reminds us of a prevailing reality at increasing numbers of American universities — what a writer for the New Yorker, in a long piece about Duke University, calls “the coarsening of undergraduate life.”
At the bottom of the university hierarchy, business-model party schools desperately seek to maintain tanking enrollments through the massive availability of booze, drugs, frats, and sports. Any location dominated by this mix will see assaults and riots; any location whose life virtually depends on these things will see an increase in assaults and riots. Places like these, as they become notorious, draw unaffiliated disorderly people from the towns and cities around them, so that we see the phenomenon of huge tailgates composed of drunks with no intention of attending the football game attached to the tailgate; we see riots at Keene State College attracting hundreds of random non-Keene State people who like violence and know they can get some there; we see growing numbers of sexual assaults carried out by non-student opportunists infiltrating frat parties.
At the top of the university hierarchy, schools attended by the “cubs of some of our most successful predators” (UD loves this phrase, but can’t find its source) feature the same booze, drugs, frats, and sports mix — not because they need to in order to attract applicants (everyone wants to go to Duke, UVa, Vanderbilt…), but because the schools are modeling the work hard/play hard thing that their graduates will need as they prepare to become competitive in hedge fund culture. Some of these students, like poor George Huguely, show up on campus already well-bred, well-soaked, alcoholics; others learn the life.
In a New Yorker article about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, Adam Gopnik writes:
[F]or lovers of France and French life, there is something deeply depressing [in] … what many in Paris see as the “Italianization” of French life — the descent into what might become an unseemly round of Berlusconian squalor...
You don’t have to gaze at the shit-strewn post-tailgate campus of the University of Georgia to know that the Italianization of the American university campus is an achieved fact in plenty of places, and that there’s too much money at stake (consider, among many examples, the disquieting fact of fewer and fewer students attending football games, and the growing need to ply them with drink to get them to attend) to do anything but ramp up the Italianization.
It is terribly important to get an accurate account of the now-notorious reported rape at the University of Virginia; but we are well past needing to establish the fact that our Italianizing campuses are dangerous.