I sometimes like to sit on news for a week or two in order to digest what has happened and have a more balanced response to the events at hand. The recent decision by the Boy Scouts to reaffirm their ban on gay scouts and scoutmasters from participating in any part of their organization was disheartening; the NCAA's tough stance on Penn State's football program was more welcome, although shutting down the university's football program in its entirety would have sent an even stronger message.
In a short but well-thought-out op-ed, The New York Times called the Boy Scouts' decision to bar gay scouts as well as gay scout masters a "19th-Century Decision." The Supreme Court had already decided over a decade ago, in a 5-4 decision, that as a private organization, the Boy Scouts may exclude gay members at will. The Boy Scouts' latest anti-gay decision, however, does not square in any way with its values of moral leadership and openness; furthermore it may be argued that the Boy Scouts, although technically a private organization, play a de facto public role in our society, as they are part and parcel of almost any community from coast to coast. Would one ever accept the Boy Scouts banning African Americans or Jews? The very idea is preposterous in 2012, as banning LGBT people should be, as well. The other, more wicked undertone in the Boy Scouts' continued ban on gays, which The New York Times did not pick up on, is that gay people somehow do not belong around children, that they are somehow all pedophiles of one sort or another, and that gay scouts or scout leaders might "convert" other scouts into being gay, another preposterous proposition. As is clear in the latest public pedophilia scandal, that of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State football, heterosexuals are just as likely (in fact, statistically, they are much more likely) to commit acts of pedophilia (same-sex or otherwise) than LGBT people are. It is not too late, one presumes, for the Boy Scouts to overturn their insipid decision, which goes against everything their organization and most right-thinking people believe.
The NCAA came down strong on Penn Sate's football program in the Sandusky-Paterno scandal, with penalties that include a $60-million fine, a four-year postseason ban, and the loss of 10 scholarships per year for the next four years. The NCAA also vacated all of Penn State's victories from 1998 to 2011, so that Joe Paterno will no longer have the most wins in NCAA football history. In his decision and in subsequent interviews, Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA, clearly stated that sports had in many cases come to overwhelm the university (Penn State in particular, others in general), and that it was time to put academics and sports back into their correct places: "[F]ootball will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people." He did not go far enough and state the obvious, that because certain NCAA sports (basketball, football, etc.) are, in essence, professional training grounds that make huge amounts of money for their respective universities, other universities are unlikely to learn much of anything from this last decision. They may pity Penn State, but they're probably thinking, "Thank God that wasn't us." Emmert should have gone even further and closed the entire Penn State program down, an option called the "death penalty," in order to teach the university and its students a real lesson, and also simply to put things back in order the way they should be at Penn State, which is, after all, a university and not an NFL training ground. This fact was brought home to me when several Penn State students expressed anger that Joe Paterno's victories had been erased from the books and that his statue had been dismantled from the campus, as if these students could not understand the gravity of aiding and abetting the rape and molestation of over 10 young boys over an extended period of years.
Let us also add to this mix another obvious fact: Our universities will not remain the envy of the world much longer if they do not once again focus exclusively on research and academics. In the past several years, German researchers functionally "cured" a man of AIDS, and a Canadian university found a way to help reverse global warming by removing large amounts of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. These findings may well lead to a cure for AIDS and save us from the continued nefarious effects of global warming. Yet one cannot help but feel that these discoveries should both have been made by American universities, and that not long ago, when our universities concentrated on being the best in the world, academically, they would have been. Regardless of these two particular examples, which, granted, I did pull out of a random editorial hat, it seems to me that if we don't get back to what our universities should be (not training grounds for pre-business majors in a bad economy and an arena for pre-professional sports), more and more of the world's great discoveries, scientific or otherwise, will be coming from abroad in the future.