Oscar Wilde claimed that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Binghamton University has been talked about a lot lately. Maybe too much.
Amidst the publicity surrounding the ongoing hazing crackdown, I recall not too long ago a separate incident that comparably catapulted our University onto the pages of The New York Times and elsewhere.
In fall 2009, only a few months after I had decided to attend BU, the school’s recognition increased dramatically. The source of the drama was the implosion of the men’s basketball team, which temporarily became the center of national media attention.
Athletic officials had pressured admissions officers into accepting student-athletes with disciplinary and criminal records. The athletic administrators hoped these players would bring the team, and the school, to glory. Professors were urged to accommodate these unqualified students and give them academic credit when they didn’t deserve it.
At a certain point, the levee had to break. The starting point guard, Tiki Mayben, was arrested for the sale and possession of crack cocaine. Six other players were expelled from the program. The numerous academic and ethical infractions escalated, implicating many higher-ups. The men’s basketball team’s head coach, two top athletic officials, provost and even then-University President Lois DeFleur were all replaced.
And this was all 17 months after one player, Miladin Kovacevic, beat a fellow student into a coma and fled the country, straining diplomatic ties between the United States and Serbia.
The fall 2009 debacle extended beyond the athletic program, affecting every member of the Binghamton academic community. The University’s reputation was demeaned as it faced allegations of academic fraud.
In this light, I think we can better understand the administration’s intensive approach to the hazing crisis. In 2009, the administration was shown to be irresponsible and incapable of managing a situation that spiraled into ignominy for the University.
Simply put, current University President Harvey Stenger and others are avoiding that path. I think that’s smart.
Many students claim the administration’s crackdown on pledging has been extreme and disproportionate. It’s possible that not every fraternity and sorority hazes. It’s likely that some are being disadvantaged because of the actions of a few.
But the administration has two primary motivations for taking the stance it has. Stenger has stated that the crackdown is designed with students’ safety and best interests at heart. That may be the case. At the end of the day, it is also true that Binghamton University has a reputation to protect.
What’s most unfortunate, in my estimation, is the way these scandals have come to represent our school. In reality, Binghamton is a wonderful place with great qualities. We have hard-working students surrounded by intelligent, skilled teachers who create a grand academic community — all of which are betrayed by these regrettable aberrations.
Why, then, do these stories gain such immense media coverage? Undoubtedly, our society has a fascination with schadenfreude, that is, the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. The heartwarming story in the media of courage and success is a rare respite from an otherwise ubiquitous blitz of fear-mongering and pessimism.
In response to this dilemma, I think we should all strive to increase Binghamton’s reputation for good. For every incident of hazing, I’m certain there are 10 students involved in charitable acts that may slip under the radar of the national media.
True, our response to hazing and all its dangers should be immediate. But we must also recognize the merit and value Binghamton University has: excellent academics, top-tier professors, students who work hard and play hard. These are the features that define Binghamton for me. Let’s make it so the world sees us that way.