Thanks, Karen

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

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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