Duke University is said to be the inspiration for "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Tom Wolfe's salacious novel about sexual escapades, hooligan athletes and a fractious faculty at a big university.
In the past two months, Wolfe's fictitious Dupont University is beginning to sound more like the University of Georgia than Duke.
Consider these events:
UGA athletes have been involved in so many headline-making acts of misbehavior, some of them criminal, that one needs a scorecard and a police docket to keep up.
Since mid-June, three cases of sexual misconduct involving high-profile UGA officials have been made public. Rumors of additional incidents are keeping e-mail queues full and coffee klatches clucking in Bulldog nation.
Poor Michael Adams, UGA's embattled president, continues to hold the fort against a seething crowd of mad old grads and disgruntled professors. One of Adams' most influential adversaries, university system chancellor Thomas Meredith, is leaving the state for a new job. Another foe, former athletics director Vince Dooley, is considering a bid for governor. Still, the insurgency goes on.
UGA is not unique in recruiting bad actors to play football and basketball. In recent times, however, the sports program at the state's biggest university seems to have attracted an inordinate number of young men without discipline or inhibitions.
The off-field conduct of these jocks sends an unmistakable message to the Bulldog faithful: "Get over it. We are not rah-rah student athletes. We're just here to play ball. Don't mistake us for Herschel Walker, Fran Tarkenton or Charlie Trippi. We're a different generation with different values."
One day, loyal alumni may get fed up. After all, who wants to watch street thugs pretend they are scholar-sportsmen? Empty seats may appear in large numbers. This is a sad situation in as much as the Bulldogs' head football coach, Mark Richt, seems to be a decent sort, which is more than you can say for a number of college coaches.
As for the sexual misconduct incidents, the cases are puzzling.
A nationally known educator, John Soloski, has been forced to resign as UGA journalism dean because he commented on the color of an aide's eyes and said, on a different occasion, that the same aide's dress showed off her assets. By the way, Soloski, the 2004 president of the national Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, earlier declined to sign a statement in support of Adams' administrative policies. Soloski is appealing his censure, contending, among other things, that more egregious sex-related incidents involving other ranking officials resulted in lesser sanctions or no punishment at all.
The university's associate provost for diversity, Keith Parker, has been relieved of his job after it was alleged that he had shared a hotel suite with a female graduate student during a two-night trip to Washington, D.C. UGA records show Parker has been accused twice since 2003 of inappropriate behavior toward women, including touching. He was not disciplined in either case.
UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson has been charged with sexual harassment along with a series of other misdeeds involving the mismanagement of his department. UGA police Lt. Roderick Platt has filed a formal complaint with university officials against the chief. Among Platt's allegations: Williamson became "obsessed" with a female detective's Web site that displayed photographs from her former modeling career. Also, Williamson hired a woman as an officer and promoted her to detective "despite her lack of experience," Platt charged. Williamson and his campus cops were recently honored by the International Association of Police Chiefs for developing one of the 25 most effective bomb-squad units in the nation. The department, under Williamson, has received other professional citations.
Allegations containing additional titillating material from UGA have flooded our computer in recent days. Enough already! Whether the dispatches are the result of hot-weather boredom or more fallout from the Adams fuss is not clear.
What is plain, however, is that UGA needs to get its act together. By my count, this is the third consecutive summer in which negative news, usually involving intramural messes, has dominated the Bulldogs' landscape. When are we going to see headlines that our greatest institution of higher learning has found a cure for cancer, produced another William Faulkner or isolated the mean gene in Zell Miller's speechwriters?
The Board of Regents has a fresh chairman and will shortly employ a new chancellor and presumably reframe its mission statement. The new document ought to include a pledge to bring glory back to ol' Georgia.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . His Web site is www.billshipp.com . His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.