Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coaches and their Degrees at the University of Oregon

Note: this essay originally appeared in the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard on August 28, 2007

Recent stories and George Schroeder's excellent column on the diploma-mill degree purchased by Dave Serrano, a former candidate for baseball coach at the University of Oregon, raise several issues. Are diploma-mill degrees legal for use? Do coaches need degrees at all? Do athletic directors?

Oregon law separates degrees into three categories. Standard degrees such as those issued by the UO, Lane Community College, Eugene Bible College and other accredited schools can be used with no restrictions, although employers may require certain kinds of specialized accreditation or preparation. Degrees that go through the state's approval process also are legally valid for most uses.

Unaccredited degrees from U.S. colleges and foreign degrees from colleges not comparable to accredited U.S. colleges can be used in Oregon with a disclaimer of accreditation, provided that the college actually exists as a legally operating degree-granter in its home jurisdiction.

The last category is what are usually called degree- or diploma-mill degrees, those simply purchased, sometimes requiring "life experience," often not. Using such a degree in Oregon and many other states is illegal; in Oregon, it is a Class B misdemeanor as well as a civil violation. It is the floor below which no degree used in Oregon for any purpose, public or private, is allowed to fall. The Legislature established this nationally recognized standard in 1997.

Any employer who allows an employee to use a diploma-mill degree had best have a good attorney and deep pockets for the potential liability claims when that employee screws up. Unfortunately, it is that third category into which Serrano's degree falls. Therefore, had the UO hired him, he would have had to erase the degree from his rèsumèwhen he took the job.

But should coaches be required to hold degrees at all? Of course not, because athletic "departments" are not really parts of universities, at least not at top-level schools. The UO athletic department is an ancillary business that is allowed by our cultural norms to use the university's name and trademarks to operate a large-scale entertainment business. The more private money it gets (thereby freeing other actual and potential funds for academic uses) the better.

That is why someone such as Pat Kilkenny is a good choice to lead such an enterprise. He's an experienced businessman with the ability to attract and manage money. The fact that Kilkenny has no degree is a who-cares. The problem he faces is that he is unaccustomed to operating within the slow, talkative process of academe, in which his actions will be publicly trashed by low-income people he has no choice but to work with. He is accustomed to doing things in private with people in his own economic stratum.

But I'd take one degreeless Kilkenny - even with an absurd, poorly considered cheerleading team - over 10 Serranos with degrees from a mailbox in Delaware. The problem with Serrano and those like him who acquire and use bogus degrees is not that they are bad coaches; it is that they are proven to have poor judgment.

An employer, including the UO, always can require that a degree meet whatever requirements the employer deems appropriate. Many employers require that degrees be from accredited schools; some require certain kinds of accreditation. Employers interested in finding out more about how to distinguish real from fake degrees should use the

A degree is not a toy or a decoration. It is a public credential that people rely on in many aspects of their lives. Degrees don't tell us all we need to know about a person, but we need to respect their value, not trash it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Idaho Sex God

Comes word today from the town crier in the guise of CNN that conservative Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho has pleaded guilty to a charge of lewdness based on his behavior in the Minneapolis airport restrooms with a man who turned out to be an undercover police officer.

Ah, family values, exemplified by this salty pillar of the right-wing mountain west, a man who displays the conservative paint but lacks the moral primer. Craig must be so very thankful that his indiscretion was revealed on the same day that Alberto Gonzales finally choked on his own rat sandwich and resigned as attorney general, leading the political news.

But it won't be enough. Craig's supporters will rally around and screech entrapment, his loyal family will loyally familize as needed, but he's done as a credible public official.

And he didn't have to do this. All he needed was to get an account on DList or Manhunt, under the name, say, Large in Lewiston or Pocatello Pork, and he could discreetly arrange for whatever boyfriends he needed.

And the cop wasn't really that attractive, was he, Larry?

Monday, August 20, 2007

George W. Bush in Perspective

An acquaintance and I were discussing the appalling sump of the Bush presidency not long ago and concluded that the next bumper sticker needed in our community should read "Nostalgic for Nixon."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Plaid Dragon

When I was a kid, traveling through small towns in eastern Oregon en route to various birding destinations, my family sometimes ate at a restaurant that had a dragon on the sign out front and served Chinese food. However, the dragon was plaid, I recall green and white but that was 35 years ago. The restaurant, with its menu of egg flower soup and chow mein, was called Scotty's.

In 1972, this strange juxtaposition was a true oddity and became a family joke. My mother would sometimes refer to plaid dragons when something seemed out of place. Today, cultural interpenetration has become so everyday that it takes a moment to notice things that hardly seem incongruous anymore. Yesterday, for example, I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant staffed entirely by Hispanics who referred to the the food (among themselves) in a mixture of languages. I don't know what the Spanish words for kung-pao chicken are, but "pollo" is a word that never saw Shanghai.

In June I was in Barrow, Alaska, which is 60 percent native Inupiat but otherwise boasts a remarkable mix. Right across the street from our motel was an excellent Korean restaurant whose owner (a first-generation immigrant Korean) brought us her home-made kimchee. Then we had lunch at a good Italian restaurant-also operated by a Korean family, serving Swedish tourists, German scientists and all other comers, just down the beach from the local Inupiat whale-roast and no great way from the North Pole.

I should not be surprised. This week I joined the U.S. branch of the Arthur Ransome society, an organization devoted to promoting the wonderful books of the British writer and encouraging children to enjoy the outdoors. The society mentions a bit about its own history, and it turns out that the first branch was not in Ransome's beloved Lake District. It wasn't in England at all. It wasn't even in an English-speaking country. It was in Japan.

West Coast Credibility

Lloyd Thacker, a professional colleague, was recently interviewed by Julia Silverman, a young reporter from the northeastern part of the U.S. She seemed surprised to have been asked to interview him, and one of her first questions was whether he felt that he had any credibility issues in advancing his cause, because he was from the west coast. He got over his incredulity at such an inquiry quickly enough to provide a suitable answer, and the interview continued.

In fact, he is the leader in his line of work in the U.S. I would call him cutting-edge, which the reporter didn't seem to know, even though that's why she had been assigned by a major news outlet to speak to him. He was so intrigued by her peculiar inquiry that he checked into her background and found that she had gone to an upper-scrapings private eastern prep school and a similarly top-froth college in the northeast. It was clear that her cramped cultural world stopped well short of the Ohio River, unless it allowed for access to Chicago (presumably her Far West) by aircraft. If she is a skier, it's at Mt. Mansfield, Vermont, not Aspen, let alone Sun Valley.

Her story, which was picked up in my local paper, the Eugene Register-Guard, referred to Portland, where Lloyd works, as an "outpost," as though she expected to find smelly trappers hauling beaver pelts through Pioneer Square. In fact, metro Portland is larger than any city in Ohio and all but five in the whole Northeast coastal corridor.

Why is it that the west, home of Apple, Microsoft and many other successful leading organizations, including Oregon's Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Leupold optics and many others, is perceived as having an inherent credibility gap? At the risk of unseemly immodesty, I will note for the record that I am probably the best in the U.S. at what I do, too, and certainly in the top few. I was the only person in my line of work to be invited to represent states at a U.S. Senate hearing a few years back. It seems to me perfectly normal that someone from the northwest would be a national leader in his field.

I wish we could see more, not less, spatial and social diversity in the sources of what we read and hear. I subscribe to many journals, and they all seem to feature the same suspects from the northeast corridor bleating at each other the same lines they used ten years ago. Enough of this east-coast upmanship. We're not impressed. We don't need it any more. Our world looks out on the Pacific future, not down into ancient arguments of the North Atlantic and eastern Europe.

The easterner who wonders why we are not worried about our credibility has nothing that we want. We do not envy her cities, her coastlines, her social culture. We have seen them. We know what they are. If we do not shout our gloriousness so that she knows it in full splendor, it may be because we are not a shouting people, or perhaps we do not need to be found.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Covenant: agreement among witches

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Cheerleading for Men

The University of Oregon recently announced that it was going to expand its athletic offerings to include baseball for men and varsity cheerleading for what the university called "women." Federal law requires that such offerings be balanced so that men and women have similar opportunities.

A friend who has observed this situation closely commented to me last week that the university's decision is appalling because cheerleading is a bogus "sport which will prepare young women for lucrative jobs in the adult entertainment industry. A 'sport' which not one of the men I know who have teenage or pre-teenage daughters would allow their daughters to participate in."

In fact, cheerleading is quasi-sexual entertainment for men who think of the participants as "girls." It has nothing to do with women in the same sense that other varsity sports do. This is an almost-humorous fumble for the new athletic director, Pat Kilkenny. I think Kilkenny was a good choice for this job. He gets two strikes before his head is in any jeopardy. This is strike one.

There is a solution. Make varsity cheerleading a men's sport and replace the proposed addition of men's baseball with a genuine women's sport. That would show a true commitment to equality before the law.

We're waiting, Pat.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Foreign Policy

Bumper sticker seen in Eugene, Oregon today:

"YEEHAW! is not a foreign policy."