By William Murchison
Now to return, repetitiously, to a well that needs visiting from time to time…
This particular well, right in the middle of Higher Ed Land, has a noxious odor that draws one back, in dismay and curiosity. Is football or basketball success the chief aim, the be-all and end-all, of the academic enterprise? Or does it just look that way? Because too often it does look that way.
In the August 3 Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay lights into the college world’s seeming subservience to those universities that seem to immunize game-winning, bowl bid-copping coaches from responsibility not just to the academic community but to the world.
Gay’s case in point: Ohio State, which put its ultra-successful, championship-conquering, football coach, Urban Meyer, on “paid administrative leave” pending a look at whether he protected an assistant coach accused by his former wife of perpetrating domestic violence. Maybe Meyer did, maybe he didn’t. Gay’s point is that Americans “spend far too much time deifying college sport coaches” — “living statues” as they are who have “become a permanent part of the campus, a flesh-and-blood version of a vine-covered library.”
Ah, but libraries – who cares these days? Libraries are for nerds; football is for heroes. Such is the message more and more institutions send out every day by way of advertising their splendor and worth: like the Texas Aggies, with their new $75 million head football coach. Nothing against Jimbo Fisher, the beneficiary of A&M’s beneficence, but is a university a training ground for the upwardly mobile athlete, or has it not a primary obligation to impart some understanding of Aristotle, Milton, and Sir Isaac Newton? You can’t always tell nowadays.
Says Jason Gay, as to the current athletic order: “Millions get made. Administrators bow. Alumni get nostalgic. Media partners develop pets, entangled with their subject, selling the fuzzy image, instead of presenting college sports for what it is in 2018: another cutthroat business, where the bottom line is the bottom line.” Aided by, we ought to add, popular consent, inasmuch as these millions get made due to thousands on thousands of fans buying –- literally buying – into the athletic fantasy.
The challenges of modern academia are many and complex. None can be considered in isolation from the others. It’s all of a piece: each piece, such as the athletic mega-rah rah, deserving to be picked up, examined, and weighed in the context of our aims for the care and upbringing of youthful minds.
Something is badly out of kilter in the way 21st century society thinks about minds and character. But we kind of knew that already, didn’t we?