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Higher education's reversal of values

By C.T. Rossi
web posted December 16, 2002

Oliver Wendell Holmes once quipped that America needed education in the obvious more than investigation of the obscure. Holmes' advice was nothing more than an appeal to American common sense. That type of common sense was bountiful in the American pioneers, who though they may not have been literate enough to read Shakespeare, could tell you with certainty that "watermelons don't grow on gourd vines." One might expect such homespun wisdom to be a staple of Indiana's "Hoosier" population, but don't look for it on the campus of Indiana University.

Administrators at IU are trying to deal with the fallout of revelations that a professionally made pornographic movie was filmed on campus October 3rd - and the adult film featured IU students. A spokeswoman for Shane Enterprises (the porno producers) claimed more than 100 students were involved with the filming of the movie, entitled Campus Invasion, with between 20 and 30 students (who had engaged in oral sex with porn actresses) signing waivers releasing their likenesses for use in the film. Reports state that Shane Enterprises solicited "student involvement" for the event for three weeks prior to their production shoot.

IU officials immediately branded the event "unfortunate" and in what only can be viewed as unintentional comedy announced that they would have to "review the finished product . . . before any decisions on legal or disciplinary action can be made." IU spokeswoman Jane Jankowski assured concerned parents that IU's legal staff would be screening the film to decide if any of IU's trademarks have been used improperly in the film.

After the story drew the national attention of Bill O'Reilly, the administration finally moved toward taking disciplinary action and on December 6th (more than two months since the filming), IU Chancellor Sharon Brehm announced that at least two students would face conduct charges: the student who let the film crew into the dorm and another student whose sexual activity extended to a common area of the dorm.

In a written statement Brehm said, "We have conducted a fair and thorough investigation . . .. With the scope of the rumors and innuendo that followed this incident, it was important that we determined the facts so that we can assess whether there are ways to improve our policies and procedures to avoid similar events."

While Indiana University's code of conduct (allegedly) prohibits "lewd, indecent and obscene conduct on university property," IU dean of students Richard McKaig seemed most concerned with "guarantees of due process and fairness."

Brehm thought that the investigation showed administrators "need to be more vigilant" and that "each and every one of us is responsible for keeping this campus safe and for safeguarding the reputation of the university."

If the IU officials' attitude were bumper-stickerized, it might read "Porn happens."

Meanwhile at the University of Tennessee, a concurrent "scandal" erupted. On October 22, the Kappa Sigma fraternity at Tennessee held a Halloween party which featured a "lip-sync" competition. Six white students were found to have blackened their faces for the competition, to portray the Jackson 5 and Louis Armstrong. By November 1st the entire Kappa Sigma fraternity has been suspended both by the University of Tennessee and Kappa Sigma national administrators.

Rather than calling the situation "unfortunate" à la IU, Tennessee Provost Loren Crabtree stated:

"Effective immediately, the UT chapter of Kappa Sigma has been suspended by its national office. ... Even if the national fraternity lifts the suspension..., the University will not automatically reinstate it. We will require the leaders and members of Kappa Sigma to demonstrate a commitment to uphold our expectations for civility, ethnic diversity and racial harmony.

"Last week's appearance of Kappa Sigma members in blackface was insensitive and offensive to those who work tirelessly to improve the climate of understanding and diversity on campus."

Crabtree's statement went on to talk about UT's commitment to "the African and African-American Studies program [which] will enable us to hire new faculty and offer additional courses" and a "semester-long program [which] will celebrate Africa's cultural, entertainment and educational contributions to non-African cultures around the world."

Aside from voluntary exposure to things black and African, Crabtree also announced mandatory sessions of "student peer training program on race and diversity ... initiated this spring and a special session on race and diversity ... added to the summer orientation program for new students."

UT announced this week that the six fraternity members will not be penalized.

One is left to ask how blackface and air guitars are mortal sins in today's colleges while participation in a porno movie is venial.

It is quite possible that Martin H. Fischer had the modern university system in mind when he formulated his famous Fischerism: Education is the process of driving a set of prejudices down your throat.

C.T. Rossi writes on contemporary politics and culture for the Free Congress Foundation.

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