Alexandra Petri usually writes humorous punditry, but not when she considers the case of George Huguely V who got drunk at the University of Virginia and killed his girlfriend. Her descriptions of the moral climate at most of our colleges and universities and the complete lack of adult supervision are quite accurate:
The setting is a character on its own: the college campus, where hook-up culture runs rampant and you are expected to drink four times a week, where you can sleep with someone and he can come to the stand and say that you were just friends, and it can be true. It’s a no-man’s land in which everyone wants to have fun without consequence. Where people are just mature enough to act immaturely. . . .
Under the best of circumstances, drugs, alcohol, sex, sports and a lack of supervision can be a potent and bewildering combination. This is hard enough when it’s going well, when calling yourself an “alcoholic” is a joke among friends. When it’s going badly, it’s impossible.
Where were the adults?
Time and again, reading through the coverage of the trial, I am struck by the — adriftness, for want of a better word — of everyone involved in this. There’s the discipline of sports but then, off the field, there’s the strange mess of college life. Sunday Funday. Hookups. Parties. College is a place you arrive after working awfully hard in high school — or at least writing one or two really compelling personal essays — and you are entitled to your share of fun. Afterwards, you might not find a job. So enjoy those four years. Colleges act in loco parentis only in the sense that some parents are very hands-off, have lots of money and only show up to prevent the police from getting involved.
This is the worst kind of protection. The point of college is to admit high school kids and graduate adults. But it is impossible to grow up in a world where no one is watching.
And this is how things go wrong in a world where nothing is supposed to go wrong.
The only thing that happens in moderation on college campuses? Studying. Eat and drink and love and lie, for tomorrow we may graduate. Institutions of higher learning? As the study “Academically Adrift” found, the average college student spends just 12 hours a week, well, studying, avoiding courses with more than 40 pages of reading a week. This is college. They have better things to do. For some, it works out fine. But for others, the lack of supervision comes at a heavy cost.
Where were the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law on that dreadful Monday night when Huguely stormed to [Yeardley] Love’s apartment and bashed in her door?
In life, these awful tragedies happen, and there is little you can do to stop them. The net of family and friends and well-intentioned neighbors is not always woven tightly enough.
But this should not happen at college.
It’s an adult tragedy with adult consequences. Where were the adults?
I suspect most parents of university students and most taxpayers who support state institutions have no idea the level of debauchery that has become typical on college campuses today. The authors of the book referred to above, Academically Adrift, care little about moral issues as such, but they blame the nonstop sex-and-intoxication culture and the hands-off attitude of college administrators as one reason for the collapse of academics that is happening even in big-name institutions. (Things are different at my institution, Patrick Henry College, both in our moral ethos and in our academic achievements.)
I also suspect that the lack, for all practical purpose, of an adult presence in the world of teenagers also played a role in yesterday’s shootings in that Ohio high school.