Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lee Todd and James Ramsey: The Hollow Men who run our universities

It was discovered this week that University of Kentucky coach John Calipari was one of a small class of college basketball coaches who have been to two final fours and had both of them vacated by the NCAA for rules violations. This class of coaches to which Calipari now belongs is so small that he has literally no one else with whom to compare notes.

Calipari, despite the fact that he hasn't actually won a single game for UK yet, is viewed by not a few people (including, apparently the university administration) as the newest coaching Messiah. Every time a coach is hired at one of our two major universities, there might as well be large crowds of people lining both sides of Versailles Road laying down palm leaves and shouting "Hosannah!" for all the subtlety that exists about expectations.

The only recent exception I can think of is UK Football Coach Rich Brooks, who was born into the world of Kentucky sports of lowly estate, but whose legacy has been secured by having been crucified early on, and only afterwards rising to rock star status by winning games and being a generally good guy. He now faces the prospect of serving out the remainder of his career between the coaching equivalent of two thieves.

Although the UK administration stuck with Brooks, just one more season of mediocre performance would have resulted in his dismissal. Wins and losses now officially count for more than "indiscretions" both on and off the court at the state's institutions of higher sportsmanship.

In fact, University of Kentucky President Lee Todd has at least one other person to compare notes with in the the small class of presidents of which he is a member: the class of university presidents who have basketball coaches on staff who have embarrassed their universities. The other one, of course, being University of Louisville President James Ramsey, who has seemingly made a career out of mishandling big scandals.

What the last several weeks has shown is that neither Todd nor Ramsey have a vocabulary that would allow them to even understand the moral dimension of the behavior of their staff--or, for that matter, of their own decisions.

When it came out that Rick Pitino had had an immoral (can we get rid of that morally vacuous term 'inappropriate'?) relationship with a woman and then paid for her abortion, Ramsey came out and called it an "indiscretion." The word 'indiscretion' is a word people use when they simply want to ignore the moral implications of some action. It is another one of those morally sterile words that populate the speech of the Hollow Men who now run our institutions of higher learning.

The word 'indiscretion' means 'imprudent'. More literally, it means "not discreet." And 'discreet' simply means you didn't hide it well enough. To say that someone on your staff committed an "indiscretion" simply means that you don't really care whether they did or didn't do something, but rather that you wish it hadn't been found out because you've got paperwork to do and you don't want to be called by reporters with revelations that might result in your having to answer uncomfortable questions that, being a morally illiterate person, you don't really know how to answer.

Lee Todd, whose moral illiteracy has been proven on more than one occasion (and here I refer to the defense of human cloning at UK and the subsidizing of live-in sexual partners of his staff) hasn't been pushed quite far enough yet to have to invoke the magical word 'indiscretion', and has so far only had to call for a basin of water and a towel to wash his university's hands of any blame in hiring a coach who, it is now revealed, has had multiple egregious violations of NCAA regulations under his watch.

What Lee Todd should have come out and said is: "This is a disturbing revelation. We are concerned about the ethical conduct of our coaches and our teams. This university will take special precautions that this does not happen here. We are concerned about winning, but, being an educational institution, we are more concerned that our students understand the difference between right and wrong and that they not see that distinction confounded by the behavior of the individuals we place in authority over them."

What did he say instead? According to is spokesman Tom Harris, "it's not a University of Kentucky issue." There you go.

I would suggest that these college presidents be required to attend classes at their own universities where they could learn how to engage in something like moral discourse, but I'm not sure they even have such courses. In any case, attempting such a thing might be no more effective than trying to give sight to the blind.

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