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School Spirit in PA

American universities and (especially) their fundraising networks are the envy of the world. The past few years have seen a number of universities attempt to mimic the American fundraising spirit. For some pointers, perhaps they should look to Penn State, where students’ school passion has led to a riot. The New York Times reports:

After top Penn State officials announced that they had fired Joe Paterno on Wednesday night, thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue. […]

“Of course we’re going to riot,” he said. “What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?”

Other students expressed sadness instead of anger. Kathryn Simpson walked crying arm-in-arm with a friend.

“I’m here because I just need to be with the rest of my school right now,” she said. “This is devastating for us.”

While riots may not be what these schools have in mind, there’s an important lesson for university administrators around the world: America’s fervent school spirit begins with college sports. While Via Meadia supports the decision that led to this outburst and disapproves of riots, I note with approval the student’s passion for an issue that touches what they have come to feel as “their” school. This sense of ownership extends even to the freshman class, many of whom have been there for a mere three months. Later in life, these kids will give.

Even super prestigious and super rich schools like Harvard, Princeton and Yale use athletics and the school spirit that builds on rivalries for fundraising.  Somewhere in the stately Mead manor I still have the souvenir the dean of Yale College mailed all living alumni a few years ago: a miniature replica of a football goalpost made from the goalposts that the students tore down after a memorable Yale win against the Evil Empire on the banks of the Charles.

America’s great citadels of learning owe much of their wealth and prestige to the rituals of (mostly male) competition and sport that many of their professors despise.  That’s just the way things work in this wacky world of ours, and foreign universities that want to be great and rich need to start organizing pep rallies and encouraging undergrads to paint themselves in the school colors for the Big Game.

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  • Brock

    Those students are a disgrace. They didn’t riot when Sandusky raped a little boy, or when JoePa doomed himself by failure to act appropriately. They rioted when the Trustees did the right thing.

    The student’s spirit may be admirable, but their priorities are disgraceful.

  • WigWag

    Professor Mead is precisely correct; one of the greatest American values is the spirit of philanthropy that exists nowhere in the rest of the world the way it exists here.

    It’s not just giving to colleges and universities; its private donations to organizations fighting hunger and poverty.

    There is not a single other nation in the world where citizens give anything like the billions of dollars that ordinary Americans give to charities trying to find cures for terrible diseases like cancer, aids, diabetes, lupus and Alzheimer’s Disease.

    American’s support the arts and cultural organizations through private donations far more generously than anyone else and of course they are also very generous to the religious organizations that they are affiliated with.

    There is a misconception that most charitable dollars are donated by corporations and foundations; nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in excess of 95 percent of the charitable donations made in the United States are donated by individuals; only five percent come from corporations and foundations.

    Two other misconceptions are that only the wealthy give and that the main incentive that Americans have for their eleemosynary spirit can be found in the tax code. In fact, charitable giving is spread across all income groups and collectively taxpayers who are too poor to itemize their deductions still give tens of billions of dollars to charity each year.

    With the possible exception of Great Britain, Canada and Australia, there are simply no other nations where the spirit of giving is so ingrained in the citizenry and giving in those nations is significantly lower on a per capita basis than it is in the United States.

    All American institutions of higher education depend on alumni for financial support and the amount of money that these intuitions collect from their alumni is truly staggering. I have always found it ironic that British institutions like Oxford and Cambridge and Israeli institutions like Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute raise more money in the United States than they do in their own countries from their tens of thousands of local alumni. In fact, all of these institutions operate large fundraising operations in the United States. To see what I mean, go here,

    Or here,

    Even European cultural institutions like the Royal Shakespeare Company raise almost as much from individual American donors as they raise from individual European donors.

    Professor Mead is right that college athletics helps build school spirit that drives donations, but it goes much deeper than that. Americans are simply the most generous people in the world.

    This enduring strength of the American character is one of the things that keeps our nation great.

  • CD

    Brock, I whole heartedly agree the whole circus is disgusting, but I think that’s exactly Walter’s point. In light of the obvious and tragic mistakes made by Paterno, how come we’ve seen riots and tears at his expense? What type of environment could possibly spawn that reaction? It is the fact that American schools have perfected the selling of irrational and blind faith to their students. How? Most obviously it is through male sports. That’s why the Yales, Harvards, Stanfords put up with all the shenanigans and why the Penn States and Ohio States are even relevant. Good luck to IIT Mumbai in India of EVER getting an endowment that even sniffs Ohio State’s even though their students will make 10x Ohio State grads. Endowment planning 101: Get a football team.

  • Steve

    Wasteful athletic programs are one American habit that the rest of the world can best ignore.

    Spending big on athletic programs have not moved any 2nd or 3rd tier school up the academic league tables; foreign universities like Sydney Uni or National University of Singapore are better than 95% of American schools without any sports beyond intramurals.

    In a world where we look for more efficient ways of doing education, paying millions of dollars to coaching staff while shortchanging productive investments like science professors is a prime example of ossified and wasteful spending on behalf of a privelaged clique of insiders.

  • PSU 1976

    Another Ohio State fan heard from.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Later in life, these kids will give.

    A lot of estate attorneys in the Keystone State are busy redrafting wills today.

    @Brock: Sending the determination that Joe Paterno should no longer serve as head football coach, effective immediately two days before what would have been his last home game in an e-mail to all students at 10 p.m. was an unnecessarily provocative act. The board may have done the right thing, though it’s hard to tell exactly what they did, but they certainly did it the wrong way and at the wrong time of day.

  •!/josepheobrien Joe E O

    I was thinking that the reaction of the PSU students was an extension of the Occupy movement. Logic, social norms, responsibilities, reasonableness all take a back seat to expressing their feelings.


    WE ARE THE 99%

  • Corlyss

    Amen, Brock!
    Given the reason the fool of a coach was sacked, the students’ rioting over the fact is disgraceful.

  • dearieme

    “American universities…are the envy of the world.” That’s a bit sweeping. I think it may be nearer the mark to say that the graduate schools and research schools of the best American universities are the envy of the world. Of your public universities I suspect that the Californian system has been particularly admired.

    This has been the state of play since – I’m guessing a bit here – the late 50s or 60s. The view of your undergarduate education is – or was – probably less envious. Certainly when I was a British undergrad in the 60s the only US universities that appeared on our radar were MIT (very good for engineering) and Harvard (famous business school). The counter argument was the American textbooks in our bookshops called such things as “College Calculus” or “College Chemistry” that were devoted to elementary material we’d done at school.

    When I shared a flat with a newly arrived American PhD student in the early 70s he was bowled over by the standard of the final year undergraduates in his new department. They were reading work in Arabic, Turkish and Farsi which their American equivalents read, he told me, in translation.

  • Shaltiel

    What Brock said.

  • Jules

    an issue that touches what they have come to feel as “their” school. This sense of ownership extends even to the freshman class, many of whom have been there for a mere three months. Later in life, these kids will give.

    To a foreigner it is very odd to see people’s natural tribalism channelled things like colleges or for that matter a flag or a vague concept like freedom. Just as they (naively) think the USA belongs to them they think these schools of PC indoctrination are also theirs. Obviously the tribalism that is the norm in most places can go too far but at least tribalists, ethnic or nationalistic, are directing their energy towards the interests of their own people. Enthusiasm for schools or corporate sports teams feels like deliberate manipulation by an elite.

  • Kenny

    Come on, Mr. Mead.

    In general, sports in college are over emphasized. No, actually I should say that they are way over professionalized.

    College football teams should be manned by actual students and not semi-pros who are recruited for their athletic skills instead of their academic caliber.

  • John Burke

    Wait…I didn’t get any miniature goal posts from the Dean of Yale College! Mead must be giving a lot of money.

  • Kris

    Steve (#4), thank you for demonstrating that schools should spend more on reading comprehension courses.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Drudge has connected the dots.

  • Eurydice

    Well, thank you – I’ve long been confused as to when it is permissable and even admirable to destroy public property.

  • Stephen

    Only a bodacious wit could have crafted the paragraph that opens with this sentence: “While riots may not be what these schools have in mind, there’s an important lesson for university administrators around the world: America’s fervent school spirit begins with college sports.”

  • Steve

    Kris (#14)
    No reading comprehension issues here.

    Mead says college athletics support fundraising and thereby improvement of the university, but there isn’t much evidence this is actually true.

    Welsley, with no meaningful athletics, is a far better school than Penn state with a much larger per student endowment from alumni donations than almost all of the major sports schools.

    Any gains in donations from sports programs need to be weighed against their bloat, tendency towards self dealing in salaries and expenses, and demonstrably poor ROI.

    No reason why foreign schools would adopt a losing startegy.

  • Steve W from Ford

    The students are doing exactly as taught. After all, in the morals free, non judgemental, relativistic society to which these little scholars are now heir, what is the buggery of a few boys as compared to the delights of a whole stadium of the 99% cheering and stamping for a night? One should really keep these things in the new and proper perspective after all, old boy.

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