How Hazing, Frats and Big-Time Athletics Are Ruining University Life and Real Scholarship
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The corporate world sees football players, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters as prime recruits. They have been conditioned to join the team, to surrender moral autonomy, to accept and carry out acts of personal humiliation, to treat with contempt those who oppose them or who are different, to define their life by an infantile narcissism centered on greed and self-promotion and to remain silent about crimes they witness or take part in. It is the very ethic of corporations.
The ruling elite sees in Greek organizations and football programs the training ground for the amoral class of speculators, bankers and corporatists who pillage the country. Henry “Hank” Paulson, who as secretary of the treasury orchestrated a government payout of more than $12.9 billion to save AIG and Goldman Sachs (where he had been the chairman and chief executive officer), was a member of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon and an offensive lineman at Dartmouth. The billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel, who chairs Dartmouth’s board of trustees, was, as Rolling Stone points out, in Psi Upsilon. Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, was a Phi Delt at Dartmouth, as were other trustees including Morgan Stanley senior adviser R. Bradford Evans, billionaire oilman Trevor Rees-Jones and venture capitalist William W. Helman IV. And that is just Dartmouth.
Hazing is also integral to the military, where suicide—including the recent suicide of a Chinese-American soldier, Pvt. Danny Chen, in Afghanistan—is often the result. It is almost impossible to escape your tormentors in the military. Suicide becomes for many the only exit. Chen, who was the sole Asian-American in his unit, endured sandbags being tied to his arms by fellow soldiers. Rocks and water bottles were thrown at him. He was forced to speak Chinese instead of English. And he was taunted with the slurs “gook,” “slant,” “chink” and “egg roll.” Eight soldiers are being court-martialed in his death. A huge percentage of the suicides in the military happen because of hazing. Most of these cases are never investigated. The bodies are just shipped home.
Corporate culture, which now dominates higher education, shares the predatory culture of the military. These cultures are about subsuming the self into the herd. They are about the acquiring of technical, vocational skills to serve the system. And with the increasing budget cuts, and more craven obsequiousness to corporate donors, it will only get worse. These forces of conformity are hostile to the humanities that teach students to question assumptions and structures, that prod them to seek a life of meaning and an ethical code that challenges the blind, utilitarian obedience to power and profit that corporations and the military instill. We will, I fear, continue to turn out the intellectually stunted and maimed, those who know school football records but no philosophy, drama, art, music, theology, literature or history. The goal of an education is not, in the end, to tell students what to think but to teach them how to think.
College and university administrators defund libraries, close foreign language and classics departments and invest staggering sums in gargantuan sports arenas and athletic programs. And the only time the student body protests or riots is when, as at Penn State, something unpleasant happens to the beloved football coach. Pity the student who goes there to learn. The faculty and administration will not help them; they are complicit or intimidated.
William Carlos Williams, author of the poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” knew there was more to life than careers, personal empowerment, the quest for prestige, the roar of the crowd and networking. But many find this out too late. And those attending schools like Penn State will probably never find out at all. Williams wrote: