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Last year, the University of Texas at Austin announced plans to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, from a prominent place on campus, but that an inscription in a wall praising the Confederate cause would not be moved. This spring the university quietly moved the panel with the inscription, The Austin American-Statesman reported. The inscription praises “the men and women of the Confederacy who fought with valor and suffered with fortitude that states' rights be maintained” and who were “not dismayed by defeat nor discouraged by misrule.”
Gregory L. Fenves, the UT Austin president, said that as he thought about the issue after last year's announcement, he came to believe the panel needed to be moved because “it is inappropriate for our goal of diversity and inclusion on campus.”
Music majors will no longer pay tuition, and will receive aid for other costs, at Los Angeles City College. That's because the Herb Alpert Foundation has donated $10.1 million to cover those costs. A statement from Alpert, a musician, said, "I love that LACC has helped so many low-income students who have financial challenges but have a strong commitment to education and self-improvement."
It seems that many who read the “welcome” letter from University of Chicago Dean of Students, John (Jay) Ellison, were pleased to read a strong statement defending core academic values: freedom of expression and inquiry without fear of censorship, as well as “rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement,” including a refusal to “support” trigger warnings or “condone” safe spaces.
At last, someone willing to stand for something.
I had a different response, though. The letter, for its attempt at projecting strength, actually signals weakness and fragility.
This is a letter written from a frightened and insecure place.
It reminds me of people in the gym who concentrate on the “show muscles,” rather than the “go muscles” stalking the room in too-tight clothes, admiring themselves in the mirror, while knowing deep down the dude in the grey sweats quietly going about his business could probably kick Mr. Olympia’s ass.
The letter is the kind of bluster necessary if you don’t think you can hold up against a genuine challenge.
Let me stipulate, that I hold all those values – freedom of inquiry without fear of reprisal, the necessity of making students “uncomfortable,” the necessity of bringing in competing points of view.
A college education should be a deeply challenging experience in every sense of that word.
But this is not what the University of Chicago letter communicates. They believe in the free exchange of ideas, except when it comes to “trigger warnings,” which they cannot support.
The letter declares, “The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.”
Except “safe spaces,” which are verboten.
Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the use of trigger warnings or establishment of safe spaces, it’s hard to argue that they aren’t part of the “wide range of ideas.” These are ideas being vigorously and contentiously debated all across the country.
It’s strange to read a letter that declares an intention to challenge students’ world views that is so hidebound as to not have its own world view challenged in return. It allows dissent, but within boundaries.
This is why it comes from a fundamentally weak place.
Perhaps this is the privilege of the elite. As the opening says, “Earning a place in our community of scholars is no small achievement and we are delighted that you selected Chicago to continue your intellectual journey.”
The ethos is clear. Not all may enter, and the price of entry is behaving according to these norms. I have no problem with it. I don’t respect it, but the University of Chicago can do the University of Chicago. I think this has much more appeal to those who believe in the righteousness of authority than I can personally muster.
The letter is an attempted vaccine against something for which there is no cure because it isn’t a disease. The letter is an attempt to inoculate the community against the fallout that happens from the inevitable conflicts and clashes that must happen in places of learning made up of different people with different ideas.
The U of C letter declares a desire for freedom without having to deal with the byproducts of that conflict.
I do not know how we achieve the ideals we all hold without that kind of conflict, without mistakes being made on all sides of a debate, without there being messes to clean up.
I happen to believe these values and our institutions are resilient enough to meet those challenges. The University of Chicago seems to not be so sure about that so it welcomes its students with a shot across their collective bows.
I suppose you could argue that the letter is an argument for a “safe space” for administration, but that can’t be the case because the University of Chicago doesn’t condone such things.
The new documentary The Business of Amateurs argues that the National Collegiate Athletic Association generates billions of dollars for big-time college sports programs while compromising the education, health and futures of the unpaid athletes it profits from. It’s a familiar argument that has gained more traction in recent years. But The Business of Amateurs is billed as the first documentary that challenges the NCAA “from the perspective of former student-athletes.”
The documentary features interviews with former college players who feel they have been let down by the NCAA and the colleges they attended, with one former player, Scott Ross, becoming the film’s emotional center. Ross, who showed signs of dementia believed to have been the result of repeated head injuries, died before the documentary was completed.
The film, which is available today on streaming platforms including iTunes and Amazon, also showcases the artistic skills of many former athletes. A former Oregon State University football player animated segments of the documentary, a former Princeton University baseball player composed the film’s score and a former University of Minnesota wrestler -- who lost his NCAA eligibility for using his own name when promoting his music career -- wrote the song that plays over the end credits. The documentary was directed by Bob DeMars, a former football player for the University of Southern California.
DeMars responded to questions about his film and the current state of big-time college athletics.
Q: Your film is very critical of the NCAA and how college athletes, particularly those playing revenue sports like football and basketball, are treated. As a former athlete, what led you to make this documentary?
A: About nine years ago, my roommate asked if his buddy could crash on the couch for a while. My roommate’s buddy was USC legend Scott Ross, the linebacker who played next to Junior Seau at USC 10 years before I played there. He was a legend and a human wrecking ball that played in three Rose Bowls, and his pictures lined the halls and defensive meeting rooms at USC. When I met him in person, he was a shell of his former self. He was struggling with depression and anxiety, and at the age of 39 he was diagnosed with dementia.
That was the first time I really began to question the long-term repercussions of football.
I still had several lingering injuries -- knees, neck, back, shoulder -- from playing college football, and I realized that the cost of my injuries might one day outweigh the benefits of my education. Many would respond to this aspect with, “You signed up for it.” I understood the sentiment when it came to my other injuries, because football is an inherently violent sport, but I completely disagreed when it came to the head injuries and potential risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Scott Ross was a legend at USC, but his condition made me take a hard look at how we arrived at this point. That’s when I started researching for the film.
Q: As your research progressed, was there anything you learned that surprised you?
A: When I started the film I was really focused on the hypocrisy of the system. The more I researched the history of the NCAA, the more I discovered how far the organization had really wandered from the initial purpose it was founded on. The NCAA was originally created to protect the welfare of the college athlete, but the NCAA now denies this responsibility.
The NCAA was also founded to prevent commercial exploitation, but I discovered that their current intent is to prevent others from exploiting the talent that they are commercially exploiting. While we were initially focused on the hypocrisy of the NCAA, we ended up with a story about college athletes and the undermining of their rights. I hope their compelling stories will resonate and help spark long-overdue changes in the flawed system.
Q: This film joins a growing body of work criticizing the NCAA and the idea that college athletes must be amateurs. Do you think people are starting to become more aware of some of the problems that might be inherent in this system?
A: When we started making the film, we received some pushback from fans who thought that the intent of the film was to pay players. Many people still want to believe in the fairy tale of amateurism and that these guys are playing for the love of the sport. If that’s true, then the coaches aren’t playing because they love it, because they are very well paid. America is a capitalistic country, but somehow paying a college athlete has become the exception to this ideal.
Recently, with the PBS documentary League of Denial and Sony’s Concussion with Will Smith, many people have learned that these young men are risking their long-term mental health. This has caused many people to reconsider the fairy tale.
Q: At the same time, the immense popularity of these sports points to the fact that many fans are not losing much sleep over these issues. Do you think too many people are happy to keep just watching football and basketball games without really considering the human costs?
A: There are some fans that don’t want to know where their meat comes from and how the cow gets butchered.
While the film has had an immensely positive response from viewers, there has also been a lot of ambivalence after viewing the film. I think that these mixed emotions are the signs of growing pains in a system that is long overdue for an overhaul. As the money continues to grow at an exponential rate in college sports, athletes’ rights are becoming harder and harder to ignore.
Q: When people talk about the NCAA and amateurism, many think of the conversation in terms of paying athletes. Is this about more than just swapping a scholarship for a paycheck?
A: The Northwestern athletes [who attempted to unionize] were not seeking a salary; they were seeking rights: financially, academically and medically.
Financially, the film shows the billions of dollars made by universities, coaches and administrators, which shows the discrepancy and gap that exists when 80 percent of big-time college athletes live below the poverty line [while enrolled]. Academically, many schools are motivated to keep athletes eligible rather than for them to receive a real education and degree.
Many athletes that come from impoverished backgrounds with minimal academic resources have no soft step into college or remedial classes to prepare them to be college students. But their academic shortcomings are often the excuse a school uses to get rid of an athlete that doesn’t pan out athletically.
Medically, the NCAA is far behind professional sports. In recent years, we have seen the National Football League provide protections for its athletes, like [hiring] independent medical staff and minimizing contact practices. This is because the NFL players have a union and a voice to fight for these rights. While high schools and Pop Warner leagues have followed in the footsteps of the NFL, at the college level it’s still up to a university’s coach how many times that school’s players bash their heads in every week.
Q: Do you think this is a system that is broken beyond repair, or are there some things that can be done to fix it?
A: There are many ways to change the system. There is the unionization effort that we saw at Northwestern, which would be on a school-by-school basis. Litigation is another factor, as we’ve seen with the recent O’Bannon lawsuit [over athletes’ name and likeness rights], concussion lawsuits and antitrust lawsuits. Legislation could provide changes at the state or federal level if the government tries to step in and take the reins at some point.
But I believe competition is the fastest way to positive changes in the flawed system. When schools start competing for athletes with rights and protections, other schools will be forced to follow suit. There are very simple solutions to empower and protect college athletes, and we offer many of them in the film.
I believe that there are many values that come with being a college athlete and that college sports is something worth saving. Like many athletes in the film, I love my school. And this film is really made out of love. When you really love something, you push it to be better. I hope this film will educate fans, players and families so that we can make college sports better. And I believe that change will ultimately start with the players.
Academe may often seem mercifully free of the nepotism that is rife in other industries.
But a study suggests that the supposed meritocracy of higher education is not as free from family favoritism as many imagine, with some scientists quite happy to give a leg up to a relation.
Those who published a paper with a relation were also more likely to enjoy an “important position” among other co-authors, such as being the lead author, says the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study, titled “Kinship of co-authorship in five decades of health science literature,” tracked how often authors from the world’s top 25 publishing countries shared a surname with another co-author. The results were filtered for the most common surnames in each country to give an indication of levels of “kinship” found in the scientific publication in each country.
Italy, Poland and post-Soviet Russia had some of the highest kinship scores, according to the paper, suggesting that family ties were particularly helpful for getting published in these countries.
Kinship scores were well below average in the Netherlands and Britain and slightly below average in Canada, Australia and Switzerland. Scores were above average in Brazil and had seen an increasing trend in Greece.
“We found a very small amount of kinship in papers in most countries, affecting about 5 percent [of papers] in most countries,” said Sandro Meloni, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zaragoza’s Institute for Biocomputation and Physics of Complex Systems, and one of the report’s authors.
“In some countries, however, this rose to 8 percent,” Meloni added.
Those who shared a surname with another co-author also tended to have a larger number of collaborators than those who did not, suggesting that they were more able to tap into broader academic networks than less well-connected scientists, the paper says.
“Those researchers [with family members on the same paper] tend to have a more central position in the publication, which was quite different to those who were not part of any kinship group,” Meloni said.
However, the analysis also showed that some countries had managed to crack down on nepotism in academe, Meloni explained.
The level of co-authorship of people with the same surname has significantly fallen in France and Spain since 1980 and, to a lesser extent, in Britain, he said.
“These figures confirm what I have seen myself in higher education over the years,” said Meloni, who said that the study suggested Spain’s efforts to root out nepotistic hiring appeared to be bearing fruit.