December 3rd, 2010

The clipped wings of some Flying Dutchmen

This semester, I only have one class on Fridays. As such, I am customarily on the Hofstra campus for approximately one hour. Despite this short duration, I felt compelled to dress in black from head to toe. I did so to honor the memory of those who fell victim to a sniper attack on this day one year ago - the men of the Hofstra football program.

I have to admit that for a long time, I was tempted by the reasoning put forward by the Hofstra administration. As a student of industrial engineering, a cost-benefit analysis can be persuasive to me. I also recalled that the name of this institution is Hofstra University, not Hofstra Trade School of Football or something like that. The prospects for the program going forward seemed to be problematic at best: geographically out of place in a strong I-AA conference, a middling record, and lukewarm support both within and outside the campus community. I was satisfied that although difficult, the termination of football was justified on balance.

And then, in September, I discovered the blog Defiantly Dutch, and in particular this entry from December 5 of last year. All of a sudden, I had an entirely new perspective on the situation - one that resonated with me in more ways than one. Jerry Beach is right that I am "not blameless in the death of Hofstra football." He's right that a college education is more than what goes on inside the classroom. If it weren't, then why have intercollegiate athletics at all? And it's not just the team I'm talking about. Hofstra didn't have a marching band, but Cornell did...and despite the losing ways of Big Red football, it is the raison d'être of the Big Red Marching Band, from which I formed some of my most enduring friendships. But Beach had one particularly incisive point, and one that I must quote at length:
But what, precisely, is wrong with people identifying Hofstra with the ability of the underdog to make something better of himself? Isn’t that what college is all about? Grabbing hold of an opportunity, making a fresh start in a new place and reshaping your life? How many thousands of students arrived at Hofstra and pulled a Chrebet or a Colston of their own? I can tell you I sure did.
I don't know the exact number of students who did this kind of thing. But I can tell you that among their number is a twenty-eight year old man who came home to Long Island after six years in the Navy, showed up at Bernon Hall on a Tuesday afternoon in late July last year - and I'm thankful to Hofstra every day for giving me just such an opportunity.

I'm reminded of a saying I heard innumerable times while in the military (so many that I can still recite it from memory): "deadly force is authorized only as a last resort, when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed..." Even if I give Stuart Rabinowitz the benefit of the doubt and assume he acted in the best interests of the University, no objective reading of the situation can conclude that Hofstra met this burden. When the decision was announced, it was declared to be the culmination of a two-year review of the athletic program. Such a statement simply does not comport with the lack of advance warning that preceded this. A full review of the program would have included the kind of 360 degree feedback I learned about in Management 130; that kind of feedback is impossible when players, coaches, and alumni had no idea this was coming.

And what of the reallocation of resources Rabinowitz boasted about? Some of that money is likely to be pointed in the direction of Weed Hall, but that doesn't persuade me that it was done in the right way. When was Hofstra's last major capital campaign, either in support of the general fund or athletics in particular? I find it hard to believe that the alumni and friends of this institution wouldn't have stepped up. All the President had to do was let the situation be known, and to ask for help. But instead, he and the Board of Trustees whacked the program and treated the dissenters with utter disdain. In so doing, they only lend credence to the cynics and conspiracy theorists who claim that the fix was in, and that the planning for this started the day Rabinowitz relieved James Shuart '53 as president. Process is as important as the ultimate outcome, as both this experience and that of LeBron James have made clear.

Fifty-two weeks on, and Hofstra has moved on. So have those affected most by what happened a year ago. Beach caught up with a few of them recently. The program to which they gave their hearts, souls, and bodies was left lying in a pool of blood and with a bullet in the back. But whether its casualties remained in Hempstead or took their talents elsewhere, they are all embodying Hofstra's creed - which translates as "I stand steadfast" - and that, at least, provides a bit of cold comfort.