Welcome to 'Animal House: Don't Be Fooled by Tales of Political Correctness. in Lots of Colleges, P.C. Stands for Party Central

By Quindlen, Anna | Newsweek, October 23, 2000 | Go to article overview

Welcome to 'Animal House: Don't Be Fooled by Tales of Political Correctness. in Lots of Colleges, P.C. Stands for Party Central


Quindlen, Anna, Newsweek


The student occupation of buildings at Columbia University in 1968 remains the zenith or the nadir of all campus protests, depending on your politics. Richard Nixon (he was on the nadir side) warned in its wake that it was "the first major skirmish in a revolutionary struggle to seize the universities of the country."

If Mr. Nixon were alive today, perhaps he would be surprised to learn that the revolutionary struggle is now in defense of beer, basketball and bad behavior.

College students have settled in to campuses across America, with their backpacks, their laptops and their some-assembly- required bookshelves, and as certain as carbohydrates in the food-service menu, sooner or later there will be keening about how the poor kids are awash in a welter of political correctness. "Menstruation and Medea: Fear of the Female in the Classics," or "From the Slave Cabins to the Recording Studio: Black in a White Economy"--it's so easy to lampoon the lament that campus life is infused with hyperannuated regard for the sensibilities of minority students and women. There is a sadly out-of-date white Anglo-Saxon term for this point of view. It is balderdash.

The real prevailing ethos on many campuses is quite the opposite. Take the uprisings this semester at Indiana University. These demonstrations were inspired not by the economic disparity between rich and poor or by corporate imperialism, but by the firing of a man who coaches basketball. Space here is limited, so it is not possible to describe all the boorish behavior for which the Indiana coach, Bobby Knight, has become known over the years. He's thrown furniture, assaulted players, verbally abused both school officials and referees, cursed at opponents and won a lot of games.

Obviously Mr. Knight's personal style made a huge impact on campus, since students responded to his long-overdue dismissal by setting fires, toppling light poles and so menacing the president of the university that he and his wife fled their home and moved into a hotel. "History was in the making, and I was not going to miss this for the world, and certainly not for homework," one dopey student, whose parents should stop payment on his tuition check immediately, wrote of the riot.

This reaction was not totally unexpected. A professor of English, Murray Sperber, who has been critical of Knight in print and on television, was on leave last year from the university, in part because of letters like the one with the Star of David repeatedly scribbled on it, or the voice-mail message "If you don't shut up, I'll shut you up." In his book "Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education," Professor Sperber says that at schools like Indiana with prominent and successful sports programs, athletics overshadow scholarship, leading to a culture in which students spend more time partying than studying, in which a basketball coach can be infinitely more important than the school's president.

But the "Animal House" effect in higher education is not confined to big state schools with monster sports teams.

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