Though I could probably pull something out of the Penn State scandal to illustrate the excesses of college sports, that’s not the real story as far as I can tell. This strikes me as first and foremost a sad legal matter, not a higher education policy story, so I haven’t had anything to say about it. Until last night.
As you probably know by now, following the announcement of Joe Paterno’s firing throngs of Penn State students took to the streets, either in anger or just to go out and be rowdy. Parts of the coeducational mob ripped down street signs, toppled over a TV news van, and hurled rocks and fireworks at police.
Now, this was absolutely not the Arab Spring, with decades of brutal dictatorship finally overthrown. This was over the firing of a football coach who, while no doubt beloved, did not ensure that the proper authorities were notified when children were victimized by one of his staff members. Yes, he passed the information up channels so he did the minimum, but it’s not like he is being fired for protecting the children. One might disagree with the PSU trustees’ actions, but they certainly didn’t do anything outrageous.
But students all too often don’t need anything even close to grave injustice to fuel rampaging and property destruction. Usually all they require is a sports win or loss. At the University of Maryland they take to the streets and burn things over big basketball games, win or lose. At West Virginia University, they seemingly have couch conflagrations at the drop of a hat. And they are not alone.
Is this what taxpayers are shelling out hundreds of billions of dollars for every year? (Pennsylvania taxpayers handed $279 million to PSU this year.) Is this what higher education is supposed to be?
Of course not, but rioting is just the most glaring part of the unstudious college iceberg. The mass of it includes infamous partying that has largely replaced tedious stuff like studying. Indeed, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that the average time per week spent studying for a full-time student has gone from twenty-five hours in 1961, to twenty in 1981, to an anemic thirteen in 2003. Then there are the atrocious college completion rates – from what federal data show, maybe 60 percent of all students finish their programs – and the numerous majors of highly dubious value. In other words, as taxpayers have poured more and more money into the ivory tower, it seems to have just added more bars, jacuzzis, and hangouts.
Taxpayers have to subsidize higher education, we’re told, because doing so promotes the “public good.” Well, as you watch Happy Valley turn decidedly unhappy, contemplate all the rot and waste that runs throughout the ivory tower. Then tell those people who talk up the public good that, clearly, it would be best served by letting taxpayers keep their higher ed bucks.