I went to college during the Vietnam War. Men registered for the draft at age 18 and could be swept into the Army within a few months of registering and swiftly sent on to Southeast Asia.
There were two ways to avoid that fate: men could enlist in the Army Reserve or National Guard, or they could go to college and get a four-year exemption.
There was just one hitch for a guy who went to college. If he flunked out, he was immediately eligible to be drafted. Oklahoma State University, where I wasted four years of my life, flunked out about 50 percent of the first-year class.
I lived in Cordell Hall, my first year at OSU. Cordell was a gloomy Georgian-style building, which may have been the model for the Shawshank Redemption. Because it was an old dorm with no air-conditioning, Cordell was mostly full of poor, first-year students who came from small Oklahoma towns.
My dorm floor housed a bunch of these guys. They were away from home for the first time, and they had two things on their minds: beer and girls in that order. Were they worried about getting drafted? No, they were not.
Gary, a freshman from Midwest City, was my roommate. Shortly after arriving on campus, he met Susan, and he spent every waking hour with her. He never bought a single textbook, and he stopped going to class two weeks after the semester started.
In those days, male freshmen were required to enroll in ROTC, which included weekly drills and a strict rule about keeping our shoes shined and our khaki shirts clean and pressed.
Gary blew off all that stuff, and at the end of the semester, his parents received his grades. He failed every subject except ROTC, for which he received a D.
Gary was mystified. He understood why he failed five courses, but could not comprehend how he had passed ROTC without ever going to class.
We puzzled over this conundrum for hours and finally came up with two theories. Gary believed he passed ROTC because he never signed up for drill. Thus, he hadn't been counted absent, and the Army thought Gary had perfect attendance. My theory was that the Army knew it was going to get Gary sooner or later and didn't want to discourage him so early in his military career.
Why do I tell this story? To make a simple point: 18-old college boys are oblivious to risk. Do you think college students give a damn about the coronavirus? Can they drink beer while wearing a mask at a campus watering hole? Can they get to first base with a college girl if they socially distance? No, of course not.
If you are a parent of a student who plans to go to college this fall, you probably received many official notices about COVID-19 and all the things the college plans to do to protect your child from becoming infected.
But you may also have noticed that the college still plans to pack students into residence halls, where they will eat and sleep close to other students, many of whom spent the previous weekend in drunken debauchery. Why all the attention to safety in the classroom but less focus on dorm life?
Why? I'll tell you why. A lot of universities built their dormitories in recent years through a legal device called a Public-Private Partnership agreement (P3). As Rick Seltzer explained in an outstanding article for Inside Higher Ed, P3s allow universities to offload their debt from dorm construction to private corporations that assume the liability and run the dorms in return for a share of dorm-rent revenue.
This is an excellent deal for the corporations because they are virtually guaranteed a nice profit, especially at colleges that require students to live in campus dorms and even eat their meals there.
But what if the students don't show up this fall? The money spigot gets shut off, and the corporation can't pay the mortgage on the debt. Oops!
Parents of college-age students should independently assess the risk to their child if he or she lives in a college dorm this fall. The colleges will do the best they can to keep your kid safe and will buy Purell by the barrel. Still, they may be under severe financial restraints because they have significant financial obligations to private partners that require the colleges to keep the dorms full of rent-paying students.
Waylen Jennings warned rural moms not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys--and indeed, that is an unsettling prospect. But maybe a more useful lyric might be this: Mothers be damned careful about putting your kid in a campus residence hall this fall.
Monday, August 17, 2020
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all.
I graduated from Oklahoma State University almost 50 years ago, and I can say with no exaggeration that I didn't learn a goddamn thing.
But I had one thrilling experience at OSU, which I am going to tell you about. During my sophomore year, I had a friend named Paul who was a radio-television major and worked as a DJ in the evenings at the campus radio station.
One snowy night during the winter of 1968, Paul made an on-air announcement that the Sigma Nu fraternity house had challenged Scott Hall, a men's dorm, to a snowball fight. This simple statement--totally false--electrified the OSU campus.
Like most male OSU undergraduates, I was a GDI--a goddamn independent; I hated the fraternity boys, with their starched oxford-cloth shirts, their pretty girlfriends, and the nice cars their parents gave them. A chance to throw snowballs at these arrogant, rich boys? Who could say no?
Shortly after Paul made his bogus announcement, phone calls came flooding into the radio station. Someone from Bennett Hall said the dorm was pledging 50 men to the snowball fight. The Sigma Chi fraternity reported that its entire membership was headed to the Sigma Nu house to join the fight.
I recall looking out the window of my dorm room and seeing my friends streaming out the door, scrambling into their winter coats as they ran toward fraternity row. Obviously, I had to be there.
Within a few minutes, I had joined a mob of GDIs in the university's formal gardens. It was like the battle scene in Dr. Zivago, when the Red Guards stormed over the ice to fight the White Russians. Hundreds of young men, wild with excitement, were charging toward the Sigma Nu house.
And then we threw some snowballs. In about 15 minutes we had broken out most of the windows on the front side of the Sigma Nu house. The Sigma Nus tried to defend their turf, aided by their allies from other fraternities. But we had them outnumbered. They was a riot goin' on!
Meanwhile, Paul, still broadcasting from the radio station, decided to report the fracas over the state newswire service. That report alerted the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and the state troopers called for police backup from the surrounding towns of northcentral Oklahoma.
After all, why should college kids have all the fun?
Oklahoma's law enforcement community had always suspected that OSU was a nest of commie sympathizers and Russian stooges, and this riot proved that their suspicions were right. Patrol cars rolled in from all directions, and every officer was equipped with a sawed-off shotgun and plenty of double-ought buckshot.
Who knew what glittering opportunities awaited the cops when they got to the OSU campus? If they were lucky, maybe they'd get a chance to kill a few anarchists.
And so--about an hour after the snowball fight began, the state troopers had formed a skirmish line in front of the Sigma Nu house. Some pompous Highway Patrol guy with a buzz haircut and a bullhorn told the independents they would be arrested if they didn't disperse immediately.
For a few minutes, we paid no attention to this warning, and I myself threw a snowball at the guy with the bullhorn. But the GDIs were no fools. We knew the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was not to be messed with. And so we melted away through OSU's beloved formal gardens--which we had dishonored by our lawlessness--and slunk back to our cell-like dorm rooms.
That evening in February 1968 was my most memorable experience from my OSU years. I still recall the satisfying sound of breaking glass after I lobbed an iceball at the Sigma Nu house--my feeble contribution to class warfare.
I am older today of course. But I only reside about half a mile from LSU's Sigma Nu house. If conditions were just right and snow fell on Baton Rouge, and if I were to receive a call to storm fraternity row, well I might just join the fray.
|Oklahoma State University's formal gardens--sullied by lawlessness|