If football is a metaphor for life, the Ithaca College campus just had two large “plays” to read.
First, legendary “JoePa” Paterno was ousted after more than four decades as Penn State University’s head football coach. This came only when PSU learned Paterno didn’t report the child sexual assault by long-time assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. Second, our campus learned that Nancy Reynolds, director of the college’s Center for Health Promotion, allegedly conspired to give students more homework as a ploy to prevent them from getting soused and “fully experiencing” the Cortaca Jug game.
While these two events may seem like parallel universes colliding during the same November week, they were predictable and emblematic of “business as usual” at colleges today. If we offered a course entitled “Personal Accountability: Give It a Try,” it’s likely no one would enroll lest they had to read and write about, discuss and, yes, do homework assignments on this antiquated notion of “the buck stops here.” Being responsible for our actions is simply not a popular notion. With so few role models, it would be tough to find accountable examples for such a class. But these recent football-related events shed light on the practice of accountability.
If there were an ounce of personal accountability in the Penn State faux pas of JoePa, I wonder how the following would have been answered: Were Penn State students upset because Paterno was fired or because children were sexually assaulted? If Sandusky’s actions were reported when he was banned from a local high school in 2005 for student sexual assault, how many fewer children would he have sexually assaulted? Are Paterno and the Penn State president solely culpable in this case? Or should we also fire the students, school system, law enforcement and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who appear to hold the sanctity of Penn State football in higher esteem than the welfare of their children?
Regarding Ms. Reynolds, who posted environmental management strategies to a faculty-only listserv, she wanted to start a dialogue about whether such practices should be considered, given the history of drunk and disorderly conduct during the Cortaca Jug. But was it responsible for the faculty to leak this info to The Ithacan when posted to a faculty-only listserv? Did the faculty “leaker” consider speaking with Ms. Reynolds about these “controversial” practices and her intentions before parading her words before the court of public opinion? Did that faculty act responsibly and accountably? Despite Ms. Reynold’s efforts, has the college pondered why it chooses to keep its head in the sand rather than deal effectively with rampant alcohol and drug abuse on this campus, and why it lags behind other institutions? Has the college considered that, while each student has a choice about substance use, it still has a responsibility not to tolerate substance illegalities?
With 20 years at the college, I find student alcohol and drug behavior is unchanged or worse. To understand why, I considered the college employees, policies and actions that serve as role models for our students. What message do we send to students when instead of removing a faculty who fails to teach assigned classes, we simply add language to our faculty policy manual that states we’re “expected” to teach classes? When we fail to hold ourselves accountable for our own job performance, how is that perceived? What is the message when some of us reduce academic expectations during Cortaca because we assume students will be too hung-over to study?
Increasing academic rigor may not solve the problem of preventing alcohol abuse, but I support Ms. Reynolds’ attempt to urge this campus to effectively address our health, conduct and responsibility. Over the years, many members of the college’s football team have taken my courses. But I don’t recall one of them asking for an extension or to change an exam date because it interfered with their football schedule. Maybe they know I expect more of them. So I ask, Ithaca College, when will we be “Ready” to expect and demand accountability and responsibility of all members of this institution?
Betsy Keller is a professor of exercise and sport sciences. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org