First in the IMTE series
Communities of every type near and far; social, geographic, political, and professional have legitimate expectations about the universities they are married to.
Hold on, you may not like much of this.
When I arrived in College Station, Texas in the 1980’s there was a bumper sticker that read “I’m Mad, Too, Eddie!” I thought, “What is this?” It turns out it was a response to a radio show in Fort Worth hosted by a guy named Eddie Chiles an oil wildcatter who, at the time, owned the Texas Rangers. He was a little different, some thought nutty… and angry about a lot of stuff. One root of his irritation was that we, as a society, did too much, for too many who did too little. Whether he was right or wrong will be adjudicated by history, but I sense some of that same frustration in university communities with the behavior of institutions and the citizens who populate them.
One: Crime seems rampant. A student of mine was recently beaten senseless by some creeps for sixty bucks. It’s hard to get reporting on this crime, few facts are known, but it happened: Near my campus, to my student, in my community. If it were an isolated case it would be one thing. It’s not. Look at the University of Virginia and what happens to their students, in their community, at their university. Too many say too often, “These perpetrators are not our students.” Maybe, but guess what? They live in a community and a culture that is created and dominated by the university and the people who inhabit it. And Eddie, this upsets me.
Two: University leadership appears to operate without a moral compass. Everything is okay and they lead by example. How many boards of regents and trustees have vested interests in contracts on campus, in scholarships doled out to families, friends, sons, daughters, and grandchildren, offices of counsel’s general who find loopholes, nooks, crannies, and exceptions for behavior intolerable in any other setting? Board and executive corruption oozes into surrounding communities. Don’t believe me. Google this if you think it is limited to a few places: “corrupt university boards.” Over 10 million hits: and they all can’t be wrong. Let’s say 99.99% are wrong, trumped-up, and miss-reported: 1,000 incidents is still a big number. Eddie, it hurts everyone.
Three: Athletics programs intended to serve student populations have become corporate circuses. Star athletes are given a wide berth to beat people up and down, act out sexually, wantonly consume alcohol and drugs, pilfer, con, misuse their star-power and all-the-while be excused. “He is an honest kid, he has his heart in the right place…,” is a frequent refrain. It is not new and the malfeasance isn’t quarantined to student athletes, coaches and athletic directors as boards overlook crimes, major and minor, because they want to win at all costs. As will be borne out at the University of Michigan, leadership is willing to sacrifice student safety on the altar of “success”. This is not sports, it’s stupidity. It really makes me mad, Eddie.
Four: Admissions offices accept students without basic skills or diminish standards and dole out scholarships to enhance enrollment. Do people from disadvantaged backgrounds that previously performed poorly deserve a chance? You better believe it. And they should go to community college and get it. That’s a primary function of community colleges. A university accepting unprepared, unmotivated, students no matter the impetus of leadership is wrong. And that’s the upside as it assumes a pandering, twisted, notion of good-will. The downside: some universities knowingly accept unprepared students because they have loan money that boosts tuition revenue. This level of dishonesty from either perspective really burns me up, Eddie.
Five: Institutions have become bastions of entitlement. People keep jobs when they lie, cheat and steal. Students are allowed to re-enroll when they owe too much money, have failed academically, have committed “minor” violations of law, not to sooth the broken heart of leadership or to generate income for the institution but, seemingly, because people deserve opportunity no matter what they do to destroy it. Presidents deserve their position for political potency rather than achievement, or in spite of abjectly poor performance. And everybody looks the other way. And Eddie, I have to tell you, this cooks my grits.
Six: Minority points of view are swept under the rug and labeled as intolerant. Intellectual freedom extends to every corner of the universe as long as a committee decides it is an appropriate perspective. Such action undermines every fiber of occasionally uncomfortable intellectual, moral, and academic freedom. And don’t be tripped-up by we-know-best institutional arrogance. The people in the community who pump the gas, mow the lawns, sell insurance, are “butchers, bakers and candlestick makers” — providing every good and service imaginable to meet the community’s needs — are not mindless slugs who don’t understand right from wrong. Arrogance coupled with entitlement is the ultimate transgression of university leadership that believes people too stupid to “get it.” They get it. And, they vote with their feet.
Eddie, I’m fuming.
Any one of these inequities is hurtful. In some settings it’s not one but all, rotting institutional quality and moral force from the inside out. It’s a cultural disaster that universities help create.
Is this shrill, Eddie? I don’t think so, and it really makes me mad.