Think About It: Moral fiber is fine-tuned over time

By JP Krahel

Like most college students, I was just about 18 years old when I first arrived at Rider as a freshman. At the risk of plagiarizing that insipid song from Rent, this means I was alive and well for 6,570 days, about 157,000 hours, or around 9,460,000 minutes. Gregory J. Sullivan, an associate at a Hamilton law firm, thinks that this wasn’t enough time for me, or for you, to earn the right to make decisions as individuals (“Cultivating moral fiber,” The Rider News, 9/28/07).

Mr. Sullivan discusses how, back before the evils of the 1960s took their hold on the collective mind of America, schools acted in loco parentis and “regulated the personal conduct of the students over whom they had responsibility.” His words, not mine. Mind you, this was also the grand old time when homosexuality was a disease, and the phrase “separate but equal” was in vogue, but if you happened to be a straight, white student who could afford to go to college, you sure as sugar weren’t going to be getting yourself buzzed.

In all seriousness, let’s look at the actual issue. Mr. Sullivan believes that Rider has a problem far deeper than we realize, and that this problem requires a solution far more sweeping than the one currently being enacted. In short, he asserts that the administration has dropped the ball by not implementing a more severe system of behavioral regulation, specifically one involving parental notification. The envisioned end result of this policy is the preparation of college students for “responsible citizenship in a regime of ordered liberty.” After all, nothing promotes responsible citizenship and liberty like saying, “We’ll tell your dad if we catch you.”

The fact is that we have implemented such a system. As much as you or I may disagree with it, parental notification is now part and parcel of any alcohol-related punishment, no matter how minor the infraction. Of course, if you’re quiet about it, or if your Resident Advisor decides to look the other way, nothing bad will happen, rendering the entire system ineffectual. This week’s incident at Zeta Beta Tau proves how easily our new system can be subverted.

So what’s to be done?

To return to my original point, your parents and my parents had an 18-year head start on getting the right idea into our heads before we went off to college. From birth, they had every opportunity to lead by example, to live exemplary lives in the hopes that we might be courageous enough to do the responsible thing in the face of peer pressure. They had the opportunity to take us aside before we got into the car, or the bus or the plane and say, “We know you’ll make us proud.”

What I mean to say is that by the time high school is over, your character ought to be more or less solid. Your perspective may broaden, and hopefully it will, but the basic way in which you approach life’s challenges will likely not be much different when you leave Rider than it was when you came in.

College is called “post-secondary education” because it is designed to enrich. It is a stepping stone, a chance for young men and women to test the waters of freedom before being saddled with the responsibility of a family or a job. While education is a lifelong affair, the essential development of one’s character begins and ends at home, plain and simple.

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