Other Types of Campus Crimes
It is often said that our campuses reflect the society from which the students come and that, given some of the communities where our campuses are located, it is unrealistic to presume that they can be immune from crime. Indeed, when crime erupts on our campuses we usually react with, “How could it have happened here?”
The fact is that higher education is not immune from criminal activity. While even the most outrageous offenses sometimes turn up in our midst, our campuses are normally the scenes of a different type of criminal activity. Let me explain.
Most people define crime as infractions, large or small, of the laws that society has deemed just and in our collective best interest. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language defines crime as “an action or an instance of negligence that is deemed injurious to the public welfare or morals, or to the interests of the state and that is legally prohibited.” Fortunately, the incidence of these egregious types of criminal acts is dramatically lower on our nation’s campuses than it is in the wider community (see charts, pg. 26), which explains why we react with such horror when they do occur.
However, when you consider Webster’s definition, one could argue that colleges and universities are the scene of many other “crimes” that rarely make headlines, but which definitely have an injurious impact on the welfare, morality and lives of people in campus communities and beyond.
For instance, is it not criminal that in the 21st century, colleges and universities continue to make billions of dollars off the sweat of student athletes — especially Black athletes in revenue-generating football and basketball — while tolerating their abysmal graduation rates and offering so little assistance toward the completion of their education after their playing days are over.
Is it not criminally unethical that many colleges rationalize their exploitation of adjunct faculty by characterizing it as a strategy for bringing ‘real life’ experiences to our classrooms. To allow a few conservative scholars whose agenda is clearly self-serving to short-circuit affirmative action and effectively stall nascent efforts to introduce multicultural curricula into the academy, certainly could be considered criminal.
It is also nothing short of criminal that historically Black and other minority-serving institutions are so inadequately funded that their leaders must resort to unprecedented means of begging to obtain the resources needed to subsist, let alone thrive.
Don’t get me wrong. I certainly do not consider these offenses in the same category as major felonies. In fact, many in academia wouldn’t consider the actions that I’ve just described to be criminal at all. That is why we have a problem. The reason these types of crimes are tolerated within our postsecondary institutions is that too many people in higher education are in denial about the injury they cause.
It is likewise understandable why many would consider it criminal for the American Council on Education to have George Will as its keynote speaker at its 2001 annual meeting.
And until it is considered criminal that no one has ever been indicted or charged with the murders of the peacefully demonstrating students, at South Carolina State in 1968, Jackson State in 1970 or Kent State in 1970, hypocrisy will be ours.
Despite the recent campus deaths, colleges and universities still have a much lower incidence of violent crime than society at large. It is not because we’re better people. We’re just engaged in a more sophisticated type of criminal activity: the type that rarely makes headlines, but which injures by quietly eroding the very human enlightenment that we’ve pledged our institutions to pursue.
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