Friday, July 21, 2006

Auburn's summertime blues

I'd like to think I'm a man. And as a man, I can admit when I'm...well, not wrong exactly, but over-the-top. My last post was an overreaction. This issue isn't worth the level of, ahem, vitriol I expressed. But that does not mean that it's irrelevant and that Auburn fans can blithely get back to their Alley Broussard/Justin Vincent voodoo dolls.

Well, check that. If you're the kind of Auburn fan who adores Auburn football and could care less if the university became Auburn College of Cosmetology and Auto Body Repair, so long as the Tigers kept racking up Sugar Bowl appearances, then carry on. Football-wise, the news that Auburn's second-string corner has left the team is, quite frankly, a bigger deal than the Times investigation.

Because this is not an athletics issue. Sure, some of Auburn's football players got a leg up this way, but as this rather excellent blog post points out, many more non-athletes took advantage of Petee's academic generosity than non-athletes. Petee wasn't calculatedly trying to boost the GPA of the entire football team; he was just a congenial putz who decided he'd play Good Cop to the sociology professors' Bad Cops. The more I read the NYT article, the more and more its "Sinister Conspiracy to Give Braindead Football Players Free Grades Uncovered!" vibe strikes me as shoddy, sensationalistic, slanted journalism.

To boot, every time Gundlach opens his mouth--and this has been an awful lot of times by now--the less and less I can see him as an academic do-gooder out to preserve the integrity of his department, rather than an embittered blabbermouth delighted to be hogging the football team's spotlight for once. I don't mind his whistle-blowing--in fact, as someone who would like Auburn to take their academic responsibilities more seriously, I encourage it. But to blast Auburn's investigative committee (a committee headed, I might add, by Dr. Constance Relihan, a terrific instructor who was one of my very favorite professors at Auburn) before the committee has even concluded its investigation smacks of motives born out of selfishness and resentment rather than concern for the school's academic name. In short, he needs to shut up.

Because the more this story becomes about Gundlach's vendettas and the Times' journalistic biases, the less it becomes about the real issue: namely, that Auburn has once again failed in holding itself up to even basic academic standards. Say whatever you want about Gundlach, but his essential complaint is a valid one. Petee has no business teaching high-level courses outside his field as direct-study classes, and even less business taking on hundreds of direct-study classes with students he never sees and handing out grades for work that doesn't get done. Sure, he was much, much more likely bending the rules out of a misguided need for student approval than to boost Auburn's standing with the NCAA--but either way, it's academically intolerable. It's the exact sort of thing that SACS is going to hate and that Aubun can't afford. Petee knew that and threw Auburn's academic standards in the trash anyway. I don't have an ounce of sympathy for him. More than any reporter, more than any rival colleague, the reason Auburn is a national joke right now is because Petee decided not to uphold Auburn's integrity and good name. That bit in my last post about him--and the toothless administration that allows this sort of thing to go on--hawking loogies all over my degree, dragging the good work of my professors, colleagues, and friends in AU's English Department through the mud? I stand by that 100 percent.

There's the argument, of course, that there are Petees on every college campus and that the only reason this happened to Auburn is Gundlach's yapping and the Times' agenda. But this calmly ignores the fact that if Petee just plays by the rules, Gundlach has nothing to yap about and there's nothing for the Times to report. The presence of this attitude amongst Auburn fans, the problems with it, and the right way of responding to Petee's transgressions were nicely summed up in an exchange in Stewart Mandel's "Mailbag" column this week. But Mandel's hoary "bridge" analogy isn't quite apt. It's more like driving on the Interstate well above the speed limit. Sure, lots of people do it. Sure, lots of people get away with it. But you're also well aware that it only takes one state trooper hiding under one underpass to make you pay for it. And Auburn--with the Times' well-known peculiar interest, history of probation, and run-ins with SACS--is driving the equivalent of a red Corvette. Petee and the administration had to drive the speed limit. They didn't, they got caught, and just as you can't blame the trooper who busts you going 90, so Auburn fans can't blame Gundlach and the Times for Petee's screw-ups.

So, in the end, Papergate won't lead to NCAA sanctions. It won't cost Auburn any player suspensions or wins in the record book. On the field, it's business as usual. On campus and in the halls of the Haley Center, though, the level of embarrassment just rose again, morale just dropped a little lower, and the ability of good professors to look their peers in the eye just got a little harder. It's long past time Auburn's administration and Board of Trustees put an end to these kinds of embarrassments for good, before SACS does it for us.

1 comment:

marcus said...

What you failed to point out in your criticism of the NYTimes is that one Warren St John, a life-long Bama fan and author of Alabama fellatio book Rammer Jammer etc etc, is a NYT reporter who coincidentally "Leaked" the news on the Tide Insider website, perhaps rushing the Times to get the story out there.