The Price of Silence, William Cohan's recent book about the 2006 Duke University lacrosse scandal, opens with basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski trying to decide whether to take the money and run to the NBA. He decides to stay put, in part, Cohan tells us, because one of the Cameron Crazies — the rabid fans of Coach K's Blue Devils — begs him to.

"Duke basketball is the reason I came to this university, plain and simple," the undergraduate wrote in an email. "Please still be my coach."

As a faculty member at Penn State during the last decade of the Joe Paterno era, I'm well acquainted with the role of sports in attracting prospective students. Plain and simple, it's a ludicrous reason to attend a university.


The past year has brought increased scrutiny to a number of out-of-whack aspects of university life.

The New York Times practically camped out in Tallahassee, Fla. to chronicle the coddling of law-breaking football players at Florida State.

Champions of the exploited student-athlete argued that it's time to pay the players for their labor.

Caitlin Flanagan eviscerated fraternities in The Atlantic.

Extensive coverage of the alcohol-fueled "culture of rape" on campus included stories about the Columbia University student who schlepped a mattress from class to class to call attention to the administration's inaction on her sexual assault case, and the now-discredited Rolling Stone account of a gang rape at the University of Virginia.

And commentators continued to fret about the rising cost of tuition and the staggering loan debt students must carry when they graduate.

Even allowing for the fact that journalism focuses more on what's broken than on what's working, it seems clear that higher ed needs an overhaul.

Where to begin?

Sports: Ask what intercollegiate athletics has to do with the mission of a university and you'll hear weepy tributes to teamwork and discipline and unity and pride. All overstated. Games are fun. Should they be the reason why a student chooses this or that school? Should the Coach Ks and JoePas of the world be the best-paid and most powerful people on campus? Should the administration and local law enforcement turn a blind eye when athletes misbehave?

Fraternities: The Greeks, too, make pretty speeches about service and fellowship whenever they're called to account for the drunkenness and nonconsensual or questionably consensual sex that occurs in their houses.

Drinking and its attendant ills: When we send 18-year-olds off to college to live on their own without adult supervision, we are assuming they are ready to be adults themselves. Are they? Interestingly, when the neighbors complain about noise, vandalism, fights and public urination and when the emergency rooms treat the injured, the unconscious or the violated, the students themselves say they're just kids being kids.

Cost: Sure, college is expensive, but as long as a Bachelor of Arts or Science continues to out-earn a high school graduate, families will continue to fork over the big bucks and take out the big loans. At a certain point though, just as online journalism is supplanting newsprint, online education may supplant the bricks-and-mortar model. In which case, the above problems will solve themselves.

In the meantime, I agree with Mitchell Stevens, an education professor at Stanford who argued in The New York Times last month that many new high school graduates just aren't ready to go off to college.

One obvious solution is delaying enrollment with a gap year or two. As things stand now, for many students, college is the default next thing after high school. Why are they there? To get a degree. To have all the fun they can before facing the grim business of being adults. Oh, and like the fan who beseeched Coach K to stay in Durham, to watch the Blue Devils or the Nittany Lions, or whomever.

Perhaps a couple of years of useful work "out in the world" would instill a greater sense of purpose in incoming freshmen. Perhaps these more mature students would realize that there's more to college life than "beer and circus," as Murray Sperber put it in his 2000 book by that name.

As for fixing the "circus," giving the athletes a piece of the action is only fair, but I don't see what in the world further professionalizing intercollegiate athletics has to do with higher education. It's easy to say to the fans: "You like sports, go watch the NBA or the NFL" — but I don't know how you dismantle an entire industry.

Losing the frats would also be costly, if you consider the number of alumni who would withdraw their support from the university. But as one who lived in a densely Greek neighborhood for almost 20 years, I think it would be worth it.

Frank teaches journalism at Penn State University.