Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The 'party' is over for U of I

Don't the Regents and the University of Iowa's President seem surprised that a couple of "student athletes" could be accused of a serious crime... and doesn't it seem like the university's priority has been to cover up to protect the athletic department, not to protect the victim of an alleged rape?

Couldn't have seen this coming, could they? A mere 16 or so Iowa football players have been busted in the past two seasons - on everything from domestic assault to credit card fraud, drugs to a stream of alcohol-related crimes including four drunken driving charges in a matter of months, all on the heels of good old hoops "student athlete" Pierre Pierce and his sexual abuse fiasco.

One source indicates that there are about 36 recent unsolved assaults on women in the downtown area of Iowa City, and there was that referendum to raise the age for bar patrons from 19 to 21 - soundly defeated with plenty of pressure from the alcohol business. Couldn't have seen any problems coming there.

And Iowa has had issues with athletes since Ronnie Harmon and before. A recent trial of Harmon's agent reveals that before moving on to the NFL, Harmon had passed no classes in his major prior to his senior year, while taking courses such as "Billiards." According to the New York Times, Harmon admitted that that the university allowed him to play in the mid 1980s despite his records indicating he was academically ineligible."

But Iowa won the conference and went to the Rose Bowl, and that is what matters. The university couldn't see any problem with that. Iowa is not alone here, either, by the way. After all, athletes aren't recruited - often from inner cities far removed from the states the universities represent - for their academic prowess, citizenship or even lack of criminal record.

Did anyone think it wouldn't bite us in the form of serious crime allegations eventually?

Not long ago, the University of Iowa's own website featured the news that the U has been rated among the top "Party Schools" in the country by The Princeton Review. Woo-Hooo.

I'm guessing that "partying" here doesn't mean cavorting around a maypole, or singing folk tunes in togas. Or even that it refers to a certain happy-go-lucky suds-soaked sense of freedom to enjoy life as a carefree young adult.

It would be closer to the truth to say that the ranking is a synonym for plain old alcoholism. But the Regents and the University couldn't seen any problems coming.

The number one school last year, West Virginia, is said to be working desperately to escape its "party" reputation, which it views as "dubious," and not without reason. And yet Iowa is putting it out on the college web site - almost proudly, it seems?

It costs a small fortune to send a kid to college these days, and how many parents are going to want to write a check for a school that is better known for drunken behavior than degrees?

The "Party School" image started a good generation ago. Things are a bit different these days, though. We know a little more about the tendancies of early-onset alcoholism and the price to be paid for binge drinking. Drunken behavior just doesn't seem quite as cute as it once was seen and celebrated to be.

I'm not saying the U of I is to blame for crime, or that alcohol abuse and sexual assault are necessarily related, but it is safe to say that a whole lot of crime in general and the troubles of several Iowa athletes have obviously involved alcohol.

It's somewhat questionable how scientific The Princeton Review's data is, but if you go by its publication, the U of I ranked fifth in the country in consumption of large amounts of hard liquor, and 18th in consumption of mass quantities of beer.

According to one Iowa undergrad in The Princeton Report study, the "gazillion house parties or the trillion bars on campus" make the U of I party scene "like a mini-Cancun."

Gazillion? What class does one learn gazillion in? Probably the same one that makes "party" a verb. Billiards 101 perhaps.

Almost three-fourths of U of I students surveyed in 2006 by Student Health Services said they had participated in binge drinking in the two weeks before the survey. Close to 1,500 minors - many university students - were charged with underage alcohol possession by U of I or Iowa City police in 2006.

Not quite so wooo-hoootiful, perhaps?

Every school is going to have its share of drinking - certainly Iowa State and UNI do. We've had our share of students on a "drunk bus" in Storm Lake, too. A vast majority of students who do choose to drink probably do so fairly responsibly.

Consider this - just one week before the party list made every major newspaper in the country, U.S. News & World Report announced that the U of I moved up to 24th among the nation's top 50 public universities in its academic rankings. Impressive.

Did you hear about it? Nope, I didn't even see that on Iowa's own web site when the party ranking was on there. We have strange priorities these days. I'm not certain whether our two alleged sexual assailants did much to contribute to those A+ ranking or not.

Reputation, deserved or otherwise, can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. But the Regents and University President seem to be as silent on binge drinking that as their football coach has been "unavailable for comment" after each player arrest.

The "party college" reputation is rapidly losing its cuteness, and big-time college sports is rapidly taking on a thuggish caste. We hope for the university's sake that it is absolved of any covering up in this particular sexual assault case.

One we took pride in our state's college athletic teams, and now we are increasingly taking shame. And it's a real shame the Regents and the University leaders couldn't see it coming.