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Op-Ed: THE IDLE AMERICAN – A really big goof

Don Newbury

It still lurks in my mind’s “crannies,” jumping to the forefront of my thoughts more often than I’d like. It was a single sentence–uttered by someone whose name I don’t know–imparting an important truth usually requiring paragraphs, chapters or even volumes.

It was uttered in a large room where a few dozen people were scattered, dutifully obeying mandates of mask-wearing and remaining separated from other folks by the length of two yardsticks.

Surely the handful of words–carefully chosen–warranted consideration by all who heard them.

“I’m worried less about who we are than about who we are becoming.”

That was all I heard from the lips of someone I never met, and probably never will.

Immediate thoughts were of slippery slopes, downward trajectories and uncertainties faced along life’s tangling trails. Foremost, I contemplated the topic of intolerance, one I’ve deemed it personally important to revisit often. I am reminded of my aged Uncle Mort, who thinks too many people get their exercise in one of two ways–jumping to conclusions, or shaking heads in disbelief.

Such head-shaking is now common throughout the land.

Truth to tell, few are spared such indicators of disbelief.

Retired after spending almost two decades in collegiate presidencies, I recall beginning some staff meetings thusly: “I reserve the right to be wrong,” then soon making “flubs” to provide glaring proof. My colleagues also made missteps–some of bonehead proportions–that would come back to haunt.

One announcement made the other day caught my eye, and here I go, making assumptions without knowing “the whole story.” Most stories have at least two sides, and often more.

The news spotlight fell on Brown University, a venerable Ivy League institution in Providence, RI. It was reported to be a long-studied decision, but perhaps made at this time with hopes that its impact might be obscured–or at least greatly reduced–swirling about in the backwaters of a world awash in news of COVID-19.

President Dr. Christina Paxon may have signed the new athletic policy with a trembling hand, hoping–perhaps even praying–that the action wouldn’t make the national news and/or cause her considerable grief. (Her jaws may need greasing due to “turning the other cheek” as barbs and arrows of criticism strike the heart upon announcement of the elimination of eight varsity sports, not soon, next year or later, but IMMEDIATELY.)

On the face of it, such action usually is announced for “up the way” action, thus insuring that current students in the eight varsity sports affected might be allowed to continue their Brown academic pursuits, or assisted in transferring to other institutions.

While I am sure there are many unannounced details, I have to believe that overall confidence in the university founded in 1764–seventh oldest of the nine institutions founded prior to the American Revolution—is shaken.

Most shaken are the students and parents of the former varsity sports (track and field, fencing, golf, squash and sailing). Some call these “minor sports,” but they are major to participants.

They aren’t taking this sitting down, these students. (Except maybe for participants in sailing, the only sport I know of where they sit down going backwards.)

They are suing, having engaged the same attorney who defended former New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady in his “deflategate” saga.

I’ll add just this as a retired president who initiated the elimination of ALL athletic scholarships, moving to NCAA Division III status where no athletic scholarships are permitted. It is a painful decision. Such action is gut-wrenching, but we honored athletic scholarships or assisted students in transfer.

Even though athletic scholarships are not allowed as such in the Ivy League, Brown U. has backed up a bit. I tend to side with the students, particularly upon noting that the institution’s growing endowment now exceeds $4.2 BILLION. This in mind, Brown’s negative national spotlight is at least partially deserved. Dumb-de-dumb-dumb.

    Dr. Newbury is a former educator who writes weekly and is a longtime public speaker. Comments/speaking inquiries to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury