Thanks, Karen

Ohio1St81's picture
July 15, 2012 at 5:01p

The 2006-2007 school year, my freshman year at Ohio State, was Karen Holbrook's last year as president of the university. I quickly learned as an incoming freshman that Dr. Holbrook was not a popular figure on campus, mainly for her criticisms of the football culture at OSU, and in particular her stance against drinking and partying for games. Her opinions grew out of very public, very embarrassing riots that followed the 2002 Michigan game and the 2003 National Championship, although apparently we could learn a thing or two from Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Michigan State. 

My opinion of Karen Holbrook reached its low point shortly after she left for The University of South Florida in Tampa, when she said of Ohio State, "When you win a game, you riot. When you lose a game, you riot. When spring comes, you riot. African-American Heritage Festival weekend, you riot." Having been a part of the academic and student life culture at OSU, I knew this wasn't the case. So, when I thought of Karen Holbrook's reputation, I did not think of the surge in research funding or infrastructure improvements she oversaw, but of her disrespect for Ohio State and her generalization of all Buckeyes from a few stupid outliers. 

CNN interviewed Vicky Triponey, a former student affairs director at Penn State, here: Her role at Penn State, from what I gathered, seemed like that of Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, OSU's Vice President for Student Life. At Penn State, Triponey clashed with Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier about disciplinary action against football players and the football culture in general. After a few years of butting heads with administrators, and strong backlash from PSU students, she left the university with unpopularity much like that which I held for Karen Holbrook: she just didn't understand what Ohio State was about. 

In CNN's article, I was really disturbed by the phrase her superiors began saying to her when it became apparent she had the huevos to stand up to Paterno: she just didn't understand "the Penn State way". I'm disturbed by how much it reminded me of my own opinion of Karen Holbrook. I certainly hope OSU's administration is more level headed than I was at 19. 

In retrospect, as I earned degrees from the College of the Arts and Sciences and from the highly ranked College of Education and Human Ecology, I began giving Holbrook more credit. As I watched other universities embarrass themselves because of sporting events, particularly the Alabama fan's sexual assault of a passed-out LSU fan, I was actually thankful for her efforts to clean up gameday in Columbus. She might have fanned the fire a bit with some strong words, but ultimately her tenure as president did good things for the university. 

Jim Tressel's nearly two-year-old infractions seemed positively criminal to the outside world before covered-up abortions and child rape reminded us that truly despicable human beings take it a step beyond the tattoo parlor. I am glad Jim Tressel is no longer a part of my university, because even though he could have done far worse, no one can deny he did something unethical and that has no place at Ohio State. He is no criminal but he is certainly not our knight in shining armor, either. I understand now as a teacher that as soon as something seemingly innocent like texting or swearing is allowed, it creates a culture where genuinely inappropriate or threatening things are seen as okay. Jim Tressel deserved to lose his job for lying, because once the figurehead gets away with something so unethical it creates a culture where other, possibly worse things are done. But as Penn State taught us, it is not enough for one alumnus to say that - it needs to come from the top down. I sincerely hope that our president, administration, board of trustees, and faculty reallly understand this too. 

CNN's article about Vicky Triponey surely has some degree of exaggeration for readership, but it described a university that I would be ashamed to be a part of. It also described a university that could just as easily have been Ohio State if not for our strong leaders - even the one I dislliked so much who was willing to stand up to the football team. With a new football coach and a new Chair of the Board of Trustees on the way, I hope they do not allow my university to become the tragic laughingstock Penn State has deservedly become. 

*Edit: I see now that others have also seen this and written about it. I guess it was a powerful statement about the university. 

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J.Mo's picture

I was thinking the same thing when reading it. Thankfully Karen's issue, as far as I can tell, was with the student and fan behavior and not that of the staff running the football program. I think if she had a problem with the football program's staff and them interferring in something they had no business dealing with, we would have heard about it.

Bucks43201's picture

You're off the mark on Tressel. Yes, he screwed up, but he's a saint compared to the majority of other college coaches. Moreover, he fell on the sword for our inept AD Gene Smith. (btw, this is not just my opinion, but it comes from people deep inside the program.)
You also say: "I am glad Jim Tressel is no longer a part of my university." That is also a foolish reaction & an overstatement. But, I will say - you are a pretty darn good writer, my differences aside.

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

DMcDougal24's picture

Why can't you be glad that Jim Tressel is no longer part of the university? I am glad Jim Tressel is no longer a part of the university, but that in no way takes away from what he achieved here and what kind of person I truly believe that he is. 
There's just no coming back from what he did and the university is better because of it. You can't stand for that kind of stuff, even if it was just a moment (a very long moment) of poor judgment. 

Sgt. Elias's picture

I just read the CNN article on Vicky Triponey. Pretty damning, when it rains it pours and PSU is under a flashflood deluge (WHAT PROSE HE EXHIBITS!).
 I actually remember hearing about her leaving, and that's when I fist heard chatter that Joe P was Führer for Life over there (not just Mr. Smiley Benevolent Grandpa Figure) and the team was not to be trifled with, that was his and his alone. Some players did some pretty messed up stuff and got off light under Joe's "boys will be boys" system.  Highly recommend that article, sounds like Happy Valley had turned into Pyongyang East with the lockstep/group think "WE ARE" stuff gone off the rails in the last 20 yrs. You can't have that. What an effing train wreck they have going on there, I'm hit with more info everyday and I just can't see how this works out for them in a fashion other than SMOKING CRATER. 

"Okay -- I've got an El Camino full of rampage here." 

Kurt's picture

Nice post. Reminds me: wasn't is Holbrooke who denied admission to Javon Ringer despite Tress's pleas? It may be frustrating at times as a sports fan when it doesn't go your way, but in retrospect it's nice to know that the balance of powers were in their correct order. Let's hope they still are.

smith5568's picture

I do not think Karen faced the same kind of resistance that Triponey did. All I remember about Karen is ruining anything that resembled fun. Even the undercover cops she had roam the tailgates disliked her. She spoke to my freshman class and it seemed like she hated all of us, I was not a big fan of her.  

jfunk's picture

At the time I couldn't stand Holbrook but I've mellowed on her somewhat. In hindsight I can see that she had good intentions in trying to improve the academic standing of the school. It was just she could be very heavy handed with some of her decisions and it always seemed to me she had this attitude that she was some ivory tower intellectual and the students were the unwashed horde. I remember seeing her out on the Oval for one of the beginning of the year events and you could tell she didn't want to be there. She had little to no interaction with the students and was mainly walking around with her nose up in the air. Contrast that with the stories I heard prior to coming to Ohio State about Gordon Gee and how he could be found on High St. or 15th on the weekends interacting with the students and she just came off looking like a witch.

Scotch: It may be too early to drink it, yes; but people it is never to early to think about it.

Doc's picture

My wife had EGG holding on to her for dear life when he did the Fantom Band before the AACC game in 1992.  She says he came up to her and asked her to try to keep him from being mauled.  Put his arm around her waste and wouldn't let go.  This happened right before we started dating.  She says he was really nice and chatted with as many people as he could, but we all know how that night gets.
We were out before Hollbrook got her claws on the University.  She ruined gameday for the fans.  I'm glad she is gone and Gee is back.  He at least understands the game day experience. 

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