Monday, September 12, 2005

Eh-Oh Way To Go Ohio

I mentioned in a recent post the fact that Ohio University has lowered admission standards in order to admit the largest freshman class in its history (ACT and SAT scores are down 10% from last year). I also mentioned that we hired Frank Solich to coach our football team, in the hopes that big money will win big games, drawing big attention.

As it happens, Ohio University did not win its first football game of the season against Northwestern. But it did win its first home game of the season against Pittsburgh, and it managed to do it while 25,000 locals and who knows how many viewers of ESPN2 were watching. Forget about the fact that the offense was basically on vacation and the game was won almost entirely by the defense, and forget about the fact that Pittsburgh seems not to be the team it was hyped up to be--it was an exciting moment for the followers of one of the worst college football teams in the country.

So exciting, in fact, that it seems that some revellers were not content with merely cheering in the stands or at the sports bars uptown--they decided to take their party to the streets. Literally: police reported many street fires, much property damage, and a rather embarrassing number of arrests considering that this is neither Halloween, Spring Break, Palmerfest, or any of the other dozen or so "regularly scheduled street parties" during which rioting appears to be regarded as much more acceptable.

Our football team may wind up doing better in the rankings this year, but it's beginning to look like the University itself will not fare so well. We were already red-faced about the fact that we moved up in the Princeton Review's "Party School" rankings from number 5 to number 2 when what should happen but we moved down in the U. S. News and World Report rankings from number 49 to number 52 in the bargain category and out of the top 100 in the best public schools category. Dude, that is, like, so bogus!

We are not helped any by the fact that we jettisoned our old peer-institutions for some newer, better ones. If we were still comparing ourselves to Miami of Ohio, slipping to number 52 may not look so bad; but our new peer institution, UNC, is number 5. Ouch. We managed to go from mediocrity to suckiness just by redefining ourselves.

All of this has got to be a major embarrassment for President Roderick McDavis, who wants Ohio University to be a contender: he wants to build the graduate and hard science research programs while maintaining an excellent undergraduate base, all in the face of raging alcoholism, riots, and sports-mania that now spills out into the streets. I say it "has got to be", but of course it isn't. It was McDavis' idea, fully supported by the Board of Trustees, to make the sports programs at Ohio University more competitive.

I have nothing against sports per se. In fact, I love football. I do think, however, that a University is primarily a place of education and research, and it is my opinion that the best universities (like, you know, UNC, for example) make it a point to have very strong liberal arts programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. This is not a committment that the Board of Trustees or Roderick McDavis are willing to make, and it's going to start showing more and more as the rankings come in and the parties get wild.

But at least we've got Frank.

4 comments:

Tom P. said...
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Tom P. said...

I would never last as a big college president because the first thing I would do is fire all the expensive coaches and quit the NCAA. The excuse for college athletes was (not that anyone even tries to excuse it anymore) that college athletics build character. Well, I suppose you could argue that allowing unqualified students into your school because they can push an offensive lineman out of the way may build character but I don't think it is the kind of character that we want.

James the Thickheaded said...

I prefer pro sports where the professionals get paid in good old fashioned cash rather than in credits to take courses they'll seldom pass. I've always thought it would be more honest if they players got the benies of their play....but that idea never got much mustard.

On the other hand, one of my buddies made it through my alma mater as an A student English major playing football on a scholarship until both knees were broken his senior year in the Oklahoma game. He hated football, but it paid the bills. I found out as a freshman that sports and calculus weren't particularly proven room-mates...so I gave up the dream in even what was then the minor sport of soccer. Grades flourished thereafter.

On the other hand....school spirit is a good thing, too. And I remember when John Thompson's basketball victories suddenly put Georgetown on a lot of radar screens - where it hadn't been before.

But great schools rest on 1) an active and teaching faculty, 2) solid students, and 3) vision of the board. The most exciting football to watch is highschool...where it's still about the kids and winning for themselves. Candidly, I'm an elitist who thinks money changes sports.

And Scott, I'd love it if as an insider, you could tackle the increasingly toxic mix of admissions, money, and long-term school development. I'm now looking at the admissions process for my 2nd child and wondering if I'm seeing the excesses of the dot-com bubble all over again. Trends do reverse...then what?

Thanks!!!

Apollodorus said...

It's good to hear that my former fellow students have taken to setting the streets on fire to celebrate. From my experience, I'd say that the problem has much more to do with OU being OU than with sports. On the ground, the problem lies with the students and the widely shared focus on partying as the fundamental event in the life of a college student. Everything else is either an annoying necessity to perpetuate the play or something that can serve as a tool within it. The great majority of students not only have little to no interest in studying, they also have very little regard for Athens itself. Having lived a few blocks from Court Street for two years, I can attest that people treat the city like a very adult-oriented amusement park. Sports have rarely figured into the equation becacuse we tend not to be very good at them. In those rare instances where we are, it just gives people an excuse to play more games.

Interestingly enough, I haven't noticed much of that here at UT. Of course, I don't live in the midst of undergraduate parties anymore, but there are plenty of undergrads in the apartments around mine, and I spend a good deal of time on campus. Probably the most significant difference is that the students here can go play in the city of Austin, which has much more entertainment to offer than Athens. The students, though, tend not to display the same kind of anti-scholastic party attitude that is so standard among OU students. Everyday I see undergraduates studying, having conversations about their course material, and even admitting openly that they like their courses. And yet, the football team here is apparently quite good. We had our first home game, we won, and I would hardly have known that the game was even going on if not for the tremendous number of people dressed in orange stuffing themselves into sports bars to watch it. Not only were there no riots or street fires, there wasn't even a significant amount of litter on the streets the next morning.

As an alumnus with no money to contribute to the University, I can do nothing at all about the direction that OU takes. I hear the same thing is true of faculty, but at least you all can keep complaining loudly enough for the administration to know that you're displeased. I'll support the effort by writing bitchy letters after I can finally afford to contribute $5 a year.