The goal of higher education is enlightenment. That the college experience is also conducive to sustained bouts of stupidity should come as news to nobody.
Raging hormones, binge drinking and parental distance are a formula for bad decisions and worse mornings after. That at least some of the University of Kentucky’s cheerleaders are alleged to have abused alcohol, applied provocative peer pressure and engaged in sexually charged conduct on school trips is about what you would expect of any close-knit group on most American campuses.
It is far less shocking, in fact, than if UK’s cheerleaders had all heeded the program’s puritanical travel policies posted in 2002.
“At all times, cheerleaders’ behavior shall be exemplary,” the policy reads. “Behavior which is loud, boisterous, rude, unrestrained, rough, rowdy, offensively harsh or discordant, unruly, etc., shall subject a cheerleader to discipline.”
CORONAVIRUS & SPORTS: Get the latest news and information right in your inbox. Sign up here.
Presumably, flinging a half-naked cheerleader from a dock into Lake Cumberland would fall somewhat short of exemplary behavior.
Presumably, the drinking, hazing and lewd traditions that have come to light through a three-month university investigation are not the experiences these students will want to explain in job interviews.
Yet even if the participants did their cavorting voluntarily, without coercion or excessive inebriation, the grown-ups should have been smart enough to put a stop to it. Setting aside any moral objections for the moment, it ought to be obvious that turning a blind eye to "Animal House" antics is a good way to get yourself fired in today’s campus culture.
All it takes is one aggrieved student or one angry parent to turn a pushing-the-envelope party into a big problem for a public institution. And though constant vigilance is not always enough to prevent it, it does tend to discourage public displays of debauchery.
Sometimes, the adult in the room needs to act the part, even if that means coming off like a sis-boom-bah-humbug curmudgeon.
“The advisor and the coaches failed to stop a culture of hazing, alcohol use and public nudity at off-campus activities where they were present,” said Eric Monday, UK’s executive vice president for finance and administration. “Our students deserve more responsible leadership and the University of Kentucky demands it.”
Answerable to both the Department of Education and society’s heightened sensitivity on sexual harassment, and potentially exposed to expensive and embarrassing litigation, UK had little choice but to dismiss head cheerleading coach Jomo Thompson and assistants Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix after concluding they, “knew or reasonably should have known of inappropriate conduct by cheerleaders and failed to take sufficient steps to address the conduct.”
Twitter posts from accounts associated with UK cheerleaders Riley Aguiar and Allie Law defended the program's overriding value Monday while making reference to unspecified “lies.” But while efforts to absolve the coaches of responsibility for the consensual conduct of students is well-intended, it’s a losing strategy.
Consider the Ohio State marching band. Celebrated for its creativity and technical precision, ultimately in a commercial for Apple, the Buckeye band later became synonymous with scandal in 2014 for behavior eerily similar to that alleged against the Kentucky cheerleaders.
Ohio State band director Jon Waters lost his job in the fallout. His later lawsuit was dismissed. Despite UK cheerleading’s 24 national championships and a reputation that has attracted 38 of its 54 current members from out of state, competitive success can provide only so much sanctuary in the face of salacious allegations.
“The success of our students is at the center of everything that we do,” UK President Eli Capiluto said in a prepared statement. “But for that sentiment to be more than words, we must always act in ways that honor that commitment — especially when we discover rare instances where those who supervise and guide our students don’t meet the standards of integrity we expect of each other. This is one of those times.”
Kids will be kids. Grown-ups need to act like grown-ups.
Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, [email protected]; Twitter: @TimSullivan714. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/tims.