I've never been so proud: A university upholds its honor

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What? The University of Arkansas has fired a winning football coach who turned a losing team around?

Just for telling less than the truth -- just for embarrassing the university, scandalizing the state, and, oh, yes, disgracing himself, too. Just because he set a poor example for his players, and for the university's students in general. Just because he told a few fibs to the press and public. Just because of a little old conflict of interest and a small matter of a cash gift to a lady friend. How picky.

And now, just because of all that, the university's administration reacts as if American higher education still had standards -- and proceeds to uphold them.

How primitive. How reactionary. It's medieval. It's almost right-wing.

Why let such details get in the way of what's important -- The Program! Is there no respect any more for the goals and gods of the Razorback Nation, no reverence left for the Porcine Cult? O times, o mores! Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world....

Don't these people realize that the postmodern American university and job factory exists only as an adjunct to its football team? What next?

Soon the University of Arkansas may be reduced to an educational institution rather than a shrine to The Game. Oh, will leafy Saturdays in the fall ever be the same in Hogdom? Will the SEC championship ever elude Razorback fans? Are we doomed to wallow forever somewhere in the muddling middle of the greatest conference that ever was? Oh, sing lamentations!

What will go next, the obsession with the number of graduates every year rather than whether they have received an education? The whole, modern assembly-line, numbers-centered, football-above-all ethos of the mod university has been challenged.

This is serious, folks, and I'm not talking about the coach's numerous offenses, but the university's reaction to them -- as if it were responsible for upholding standards instead of eroding them, for molding its students' character, for upholding civilized values. Where will it all end?

I really don't know what to make of it. I may never again be able to make cynical remarks about college sports programs. This week Jeff Long, the university's athletic director, actually stood up for his and his university's principles. Can you believe it?

Impressive, too, was the support Jeff Long promptly received from the university's board of trustees, who clearly know their duty, which includes not just backing administrators' decisions when they're the right ones, but being seen and heard backing them.

Imagine: A university willing to risk enraging a state as football-crazy as any other in the South, where football comes as close to an establishment of religion as the First Amendment will allow.

Think of it: An administration with the guts (and sense of honor) to risk enraging fans, alumni and a whole state full of avid fans. Yes, shocking.

Director Jeff Long actually used old-fashioned words like character and integrity and responsibility when he announced that Coach Bobby Petrino's employment as head coach was being terminated -- for cause. No huge buy-out, no ransom, no reward for his misbehavior. What's gotten into people -- principle?

I can't get over it: Instead of just giving the coach a slap on the wrist and letting bygones be bygones, the university took little details like telling the truth--and ethical standards in general--with the seriousness they long have deserved. Will wonders never cease?

I never thought I'd see such a thing.

I was completely surprised. And so proud.

It was hard to believe when the news came down Tuesday evening. The day was ending, the light was fading, but somehow there seemed to be a bright aura around Old Main, the landmark tower on the university's campus at Fayetteville. Maybe it was the reflection of old standards being burnished.

(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is pgreenberg@arkansasonline.com.)

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THE EDITORIAL BOARD


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

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