- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

America in springtime is a lively stew. The college campuses are a major source of the liveliness. As the weath-

er heats up, college youths in desperation begin to wet their whistles with even more prodigious quantities of beer than in prior months, causing the profs grave alarm. A generation ago, many of these profs urged the legalization of cannabis and even wilder potions. Many still do, but beer drinking on campus goes too far. They esteem it even more abominable than cigarette smoking, which is another campus horror they apparently can do nothing about.

As the days lengthen and the students swelter, they begin to disrobe. This, too, the profs approved of back in their post-graduate days. Yet now with the students attending their tedious lectures in abbreviated clothing that amounts to little more than underwear, the graying, fattening profs are in despair. And it does not mollify them that the half-naked youths are hung over and generally passive. Of course, the profs themselves are hardly lively specimens. Nor are they dressed to the nines. In fact, many still wear the bohemians raiment of their 1970s grad-school days. The campus janitors are generally better dressed and always happier. I am told that at some universities janitors are addressed by students as "sir," are mistaken for professors emeriti. Doubtless were they to lecture they would do a better job of keeping the students awake and their lectures would quite possibly be in superior English.

All of the above is adduced to make the obvious point that the campuses are in a hell of a mess, and even the poor profs know it. Unfortunately, they have no idea of how to lift the curse of drunken, disorderly and semi-naked students from their presence.

Travels through academe this spring made it clear to me that the poor profs are living in slums. Alcohol arrests are up. Even drug arrests are up. While taking an elevator to the seventh floor of a high-rise dormitory at a Midwestern university, I was informed by a coed (old-fashioned word that, but precise) standing next to me that the pungent odor of the elevator was that of urine. The college boys, she told me, their kidneys engorged with beer, cannot control themselves in the wee hours; and, well, they wee, right there in the elevator. Nothing can be done about it.

No, fellow students tolerate the condition. The faculty cannot muster the will to oppose it. If the university administration finally finds some sophisticated expedient for taking action (say a study reports that the incontinent students are endangering the health of others) you can be sure the remedial action taken will be equally indirect. Probably the local beer distributors will be penalized.

A week or so after my trip to the Midwest, I attended Princeton University's reunion with a graduate of the very same institution, and got another insight into the problems of academe. The Princeton alumni, dating back to the 1920s, were all very dignified. Their evening ceremonies were perfectly respectable, despite the presence of booze and even tobacco. But the panels that the university put together were brazenly out of step with the behavior and interests of the graduates. Many were broadcasting New Age or politically correct orthodoxy. One even featured the university's most controversial prof, Peter Singer, the champion of euthanasia, eugenics and who knows what might come next from this crank, perhaps cannibalism? It was all unnecessarily provocative.

Twenty-four hours later I was visiting the 84th running of the Indianapolis 500 automobile race. An insight occurred into the universities' problems. Their mandarins spend too much time trying to provoke. Their itch is to disturb settled standards. They are not serious about educating their beer-swilling youths to the great adventure that has been Western civilization. Their institutions are not serious in the French sense to wit, being serious about serious things.

At Indy, there was much beer drinking, but very little drunkenness. The attire was, shall we say, casual to the point of being primitive, but the audience was dignified and respectful of the proceedings. And what were the proceedings? Thirty-three drivers were racing around a 2.5-mile track as rapidly and as safely as they could. It was serious business, and most of the fans understood the seriousness. That seriousness conferred a dignity on the entire proceedings.

With the exception of certain science departments, most universities are not really engaged in serious matters. They confer degrees whether the students have been educated or not. After all these years, they still engage in epater le bourgeoisie by featuring the likes of Mr. Singer on campus rather than passing on serious learning and developing discerning minds. As a consequence, the youths drink beer and go naked. What else is there to do?

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the editor in chief of the American Spectator.

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