Street Crud

10 Nov

Those of you in the New York area or with internet access are urged to check out the back cover of today’s Daily News.   The picture is of a riot scene in State College, PA after the dismissal of football coach Joe Paterno.

Part of our job at GAPW is to read the tea leaves, not only regarding diplomats but also the culture in which we act and that we seek to change in some fairly fundamental ways.

Those of you who have been following this case at all — and it has been hard to avoid in the US — understand how sordid this affair is.  The behavior is bad enough, but the focus on the ‘best interests’ of the university rather than of the abused kids is worse.  And now this.

What could these students possibly have been rioting about?   On harassment-obsessed campuses were they outraged that things like this could happen under their noses?

One could only wish that it were so.   The stronger evidence points to the triumph of celebrity over ethical conduct.   In an isolated, academically-mediocre town, Paterno and the football program represented the only ‘celebrity’ available.   Any peer inquiring about school choice and hearing ‘Penn State’ in response would default to the football program as the main motivation for matriculation.

In my adult life, the veil has been taken off universities.   They are businesses, pure and simple.  They develop careers, not character.  They make false promises to students who incur massive debt on a risky bet that future earnings will offset the pain.  They provide safe havens from life until students can be assured of lifestyles that will prove acceptable to themselves and their peers.

Paterno is a football coach.   He gave back to the school that made him rich.   He failed a simple moral test that endangered children’s lives.  Anyone rioting in ‘Happy Valley’ to mourn the loss of their local celebrity has more to mourn than they imagine.

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