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That dynamic helps explain the problems that can come from campuses that act like city-states, with law-enforcement systems operating independently of local and federal officials. Many campuses have their own police departments, staffed with sworn officers who have the authority to investigate everything from break-ins to murders. Depending on the transgression and how it is reported, some alleged crimes are dealt with on campus, and some are passed to local prosecutors. The colleges have unusual discretion, although stronger enforcement of federal laws is affording them less latitude. The Clery Act, signed into law in 1990, requires colleges and universities that receive federal funds to disclose the number of criminal offenses recorded on campus. Until recently, however, the Clery Act has lacked teeth.
Less-than-transparent reporting of campus crime is a problem beyond Penn State, especially when athletes are involved. So the Obama Administration has created a team dedicated to strengthening enforcement. In early October, the U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation of Marquette University after two female students accused athletes of sexual misconduct. The university has been accused by a local prosecutor of failing to report the allegation to Milwaukee police as mandated by Wisconsin law. This year, six institutions are facing fines. That's the same number of schools that the Department of Education fined in the first 18 years of the law's existence. Now 49 schools have been investigated, 26 of them in the past three years. Six-figure fines are the new norm. "We're just beginning to break the silence of sexual violence that exists on campuses," says Alison Kiss, the executive director of Security on Campus, a college safety-advocacy group.
The Grand Experiment Revisited
During his 45-plus years as head football coach, Paterno conducted what he termed "the grand experiment": the idea that major-college athletes could contend for national championships while excelling in the classroom. For the most part, it succeeded. Out of this current painful event, Penn State has a chance to try a new grand experiment. The school could drop football for at least a year.
Such a decision would not be unprecedented. In 1939, University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins, scornful of schools that drew too much attention for their sports teams, ditched football. "We Americans are the only people in human history who ever got sport mixed up with higher education," Hutchins wrote in a 1954 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED article explaining his decision and advocating that others follow suit.
Through the Penn State example, schools across the U.S. would be forced to think about rebalancing academics and athletics. Nearly a third of the players on the Texas Tech football team don't graduate. But in the Big 12 conference, Texas Tech is actually the top academic performer. Among 66 major-conference, BCS schools, only four Notre Dame, Boston College and Duke graduate 90 percent or more of their football players. According to Duke University economist Charles Clotfelter, salaries for football coaches at 44 major public universities have grown 750%, on an inflation-adjusted basis, since 1985. Salaries for professors at these schools have risen 32%.
Six months ago, Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel resigned under pressure after trying to cover up NCAA violations. It was a chance for Ohio State president Gordon Gee, who once abolished the athletics department at Vanderbilt University to better integrate sports with that school, to reset the terms on his campus. But on Nov. 28, he announced the hiring of Urban Meyer as football coach, with one of the richest contracts in college-sports history--$24 million plus a country-club membership and a private plane for personal use. The campus bubble keeps inflating; is Penn State, or anyone else, going to pop it?
In the original version of this story, Notre Dame, an independent school, was not included in the tally of BCS schools.