Authorities at Arkansas State University arrested Carlon Walker, a 44-year-old local man, on Tuesday for allegedly making a bomb threat against a women's dormitory. Students were evacuated from the facility (and an adjacent building), but were permitted to return after a room-by-room search of the building found nothing of danger. A spokeswoman for the university said Walker was not known to have any connection to Arkansas State, and that authorities did not believe this threat was linked to four others against colleges and universities in the last week. Those threats have not been linked either, but law enforcement officials are investigating the incidents for possible connections.
Last week my daughter sent me a link to a website that ranked the alleged “Top 100 Universities in the World.” (She was proud that her school – the University of Pittsburgh -- had made the list, albeit sneaking in at number 98.) The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was in 57th place, one slot ahead of the United Kingdom’s University of Warwick.
Like UNC, Warwick is a public school, but a comparative newcomer founded in 1965. Its mission statement notes goals consistent with America’s finest public universities, such as “become a world leader in research and teaching” and “equip graduates to make a important contribution to the economy and to society.” To have earned such a superb international reputation in not quite 50 years of existence, it must be doing something right.
In the wake of Monday afternoon’s news that UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp – rightly or wrongly under fire for myriad athletics-related transgressions in Chapel Hill -- had decided to step down, I wondered what role sports played on Warwick’s campus. The university website notes opportunities to participate in over 75 club teams (from rugby to windsurfing, and everything you can imagine in between), an initiative known as “Warwick Active” promoting physical activities for all members of the university community, and a wide variety of additional opportunities suggesting an environment that values the pursuit of a physically vigorous lifestyle.
The adages “sound mind, sound body” and “something for everyone” immediately came to mind. As is the case in virtually all of higher education except for the United States, more highly competitive sports are conducted outside the Warwick campus. In fact, with the billions American universities spend on the pursuit of championships, our society’s proclivity to yield to every need and desire of television executives, and compensation for coaches dwarfing that of college presidents, I’m convinced that Thorp’s counterparts at schools like Warwick may think that our system of Division I intercollegiate athletics borders on insanity.
Many fans of North Carolina’s Tar Heels have long believed that their pristine campus was above the scandals and seemliness of big-time sports. That happened to the other guys, the play-fast-and-loose crowd from the Southeastern Conference, those intellectual lesser lights in the Big 12, and yes, the wannabes up the road at N.C. State in Raleigh. Be assured, many are reveling in UNC’s agony.
But what happened at Chapel Hill and to Thorp could have happened at any major university that chases the often-false glory associated with big-time college sports in America. To blame Thorp for Carolina football players taking money from agents or athletes being steered to courses where they were assured high grades is taking the easy way out and not really addressing the root of the problem.
The popular cry from those who favor reform is “the presidents need to take charge.” If only it were that simple. In reality, when it comes to college sports some presidents are little more than middle managers stuck in between high-profile coaches and ineffective, often not particularly courageous trustees.
I once asked a well-known university president why he and his colleagues hadn’t done more to clean up college sports. He confessed that a university CEO who endeavored to take on big-time football or basketball did so at the risk of spending so much political capital as to be rendered powerless in addressing more important needs such as student affordability, funding for research and facilities, support to attract top faculty, etc.
Indeed, it is not unusual to hear about trustees who appear more concerned with their school landing a top quarterback or power forward than a scientist whose research might hold the key to fighting an incurable disease.
So where do we go from here? Holden Thorp’s exit changes nothing. The new chancellor will be faced with the same challenges many university leaders do in terms of controlling their most visible sports programs. The ball is in the trustees’ court, and if they can’t figure out a way for sports to be a legitimate part of the university and not the other way around, perhaps UNC should look overseas -- maybe there’s room in the University of Warwick’s league.
Bob Malekoff is an associate professor and department chair of Sport Studies at Guilford College.
The recent drinking-related death of a freshman at California State University at Fresno should alert college administrators, students, and parents to the seriousness of student alcohol abuse as it occurs in and around campus settings. This unnecessary tragedy should also motivate students to use every precaution available when engaging with alcohol, a popular – and dangerous – hobby.
When I read of these incidents, and there are far too many, I wonder why student alcohol misuse continues to be a problem. It seems that every tragedy sparks a renewed campus interest in curbing alcohol abuse, whether in the form of community vigils to raise awareness, student activism aimed at changing the college culture, or policy reforms that promise safer campus environments. However, just as soon as we take a step forward to make a campus environment safer, popular culture pushes us two steps backward.
College students are targeted with messages that promote drinking as a part of the college experience. Students see images from mega-beer advertising in everything from sports to popular reality TV shows. In this year of the presidential election, drinking beer has even played a role in making President Obama appear more likable to voters. In this environment, I find myself resigned to the belief that notwithstanding the risks, students are going to consume alcohol, sometimes in unhealthy ways, while in college. It is a part of the college experience, just as much as the freshman 15 and the sophomore slump are rites of passage.
Campus administrators have responded to student alcohol misuse with education, policy and advocacy outreach. Campuses have grown their arsenal of websites, policies, pamphlets, posters, videos, training sessions, peer educators, themed housing, community coalitions, online assessments, and other tools to combat the issue and help students make safer choices with alcohol. The research suggests that the use of these various tools does curb alcohol misuse and risky drinking behavior. In my research, I have found that students frequently engage with alcohol in risky ways while attending off-campus parties. The bottom line is simply this: students are better off with the intervention than without it.
But are these interventions sufficient? And conversely, if we add one more program to our strategy, will it make a difference? My research leads me to believe that a focus on off-campus party hosts could make a difference. It is clear that those who organize or host parties are underprepared and ill-educated to do so. I advocate for targeted education of party hosts so that they can work to create and manage parties in safe and responsible ways. I focus on students who host parties, because I believe they are the best individuals to make decisions that can save the lives of others. In the same way that they bring groups of students together for parties, both on- and off-campus, they also stay at campus parties long after administrators have gone home or to sleep.
Focusing on hosts leads to some important policy and programmatic strategies. Policies that encourage hosts to take protective actions when promoting alcohol use are likely to be more effective than banning alcohol from parties. However, most party hosts are not ready for this responsibility. Students are underprepared to create and manage parties in which others can socialize with alcohol in safe environments. For example, when I asked hosts about their preparations for and actions during a party, they said they are unlikely to provide any snacks, heavier food, water, or non-alcoholic beverages. By not making these common protective items available, they are missing an opportunity to reduce the likelihood of intoxication among party guests.
In addition, hosts are unlikely to use basic party management techniques, such as adherence to state alcohol laws; preventing minors from drinking at their party; having a sober team or keeping sober themselves; calling police if the party gets out of control; verifying that the smoke detectors and fire extinguisher work before a party; and contacting neighbors in advance of a party. Party hosts seem unaware that each of these proactive measures could greatly reduce personal liability and risk to students.
Party hosts are a weak link in the chain of strategies to manage the campus environment. There is a need to be more aggressive as we extend alcohol education programs to those who host or plan to host off-campus parties. It is a safe assumption that on-campus and off-campus party hosts behave similarly. In our collective effort to curb student alcohol-related incidents, campus administrators should continue their work along the environmental management approach by intentionally targeting student party hosts. Because this is a challenging group to reach, hosts would benefit from a curriculum that promotes safe party management, practical online resources for event planning, messages from campus and community leaders that reinforce healthy drinking behaviors, and policies that give students the incentive to do the right thing, like good Samaritan and medical amnesty policies.
But is curbing student alcohol misuse the ultimate goal? No, we need to push beyond curbing alcohol misuse to stop senseless and preventable alcohol-related deaths. For this to happen there needs to be a cultural shift in the way in which the campus community values alcohol and alcohol-related activities, especially as they occur on or near college campuses. Common practices that send unintended messages to students include limited late night or weekend student activity programming; few Friday or weekend classes or exams; sporting events that sell alcohol and promote a tradition of pre- and post-game tailgate parties; open bar events for university donors, faculty, and alumni; vague student alcohol policies that are often not applied equally to all student groups; and area restaurants and bars that give significant discounts for happy hour, pitcher, and bottomless cup promotions. Until we seriously address the issue of campus drinking, including a campus dialogue between and among campus members, campus administrators will remain handcuffed to strategies that are additive in nature but that do not adequately address the problem.
Designing and implementing a comprehensive party host curriculum and training is additive – but significant. I urge scholar practitioners to rethink, research, and discuss new and integrative approaches to alcohol education. Students who are new to college campuses, such as the case at Fresno State, deserve a better environment in which to learn and develop. They deserve an environment and a campus administration that strives for more than curbing student alcohol misuse. The goal of an environmental management approach is to influence behavioral changes within campus and community environments; the challenge is to do so with campus-specific interventions, limited resources, and narrowly tailored campus committees responsible for risk management.
Rick C. Jakeman is assistant professor of higher education within the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University.
Close to 1,000 people held a rally at Pennsylvania State University Saturday to call on the institution's Board of Trustees to resign, The Centre Daily Times reported. Attendees were angry that the board fired Joe Paterno as head football coach last year and subsequently largely accepted the analysis of an investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal that, among other things, was critical of Paterno (who died before the inquiry concluded). Franco Harris, a college and professional football star (who played at Penn State under Paterno), referred to the night the board fired the coach this way: "It only took one night, just one night for the BOT to lay a path of destruction never before seen on any college campus."
Cornell University announced Friday that it is severing business ties with Adidas, finding that the company does not live up to what the university considers minimal acceptable standards for treating its workers. Cornell's statement specifically referenced the company's failure to pay severance to workers at a factory that was closed in Indonesia in 2010. If Adidas should change its policies, Cornell would welcome the chance to resume work with the company. Adidas officials did not respond to a request for comment. Cornell's royalties from the company have been modest in recent years, $1,000 to $2,000, according to a spokesman.
Three campuses -- the University of Texas at Austin, North Dakota State University and Hiram College -- received bomb threats Friday that were taken seriously enough to lead to mass evacuations, the Associated Press reported. But in all three cases, the threats appeared to be false and students and employees were permitted to return to the campuses.
The day after the University of Tulsa announced the firing of President Geoffrey Orsak -- after only 74 days in office -- the university issued a vague statement that did not offer any explanation for the action. "Discretion and university policy dictate that I not discuss the specific circumstances surrounding the decision, except to underscore my confidence in the collective wisdom of the University of Tulsa Board of Trustees," said a statement by Duane Wilson, the board chair. The statement called the board's decision "unavoidable," but offered no information on why this was the case.