The boy’s mother cried. The father demanded answers.

Their son, the greatest student the high school had known.

While the other students spent their time avoiding learning, their son devoured it. His free time was spent mastering college-level subjects, community outreach and playing a pretty good lacrosse game.

Here was a young man who defined “cream of the crop.”

They sent him to the finest school in the country.

And he came back, just a month later, in a box.

“A tragedy,” said the Dean.

“We’re deeply saddened,” stated the Fraternity.

“We must redouble our efforts to educate our community about the risks and consequences involved in drinking and do all that we can to see that this kind of tragedy never happens again.” said the school’s president. [Actual quote.]

“They’re suspended,” said the Fraternity. “We’ll be dry by 2000, too.”

“We warned you!” said Harvard. “Look at our 1993 study! See? See?

“Wait a minute,” said someone paying attention. “This happened a month ago, didn’t it?”

• •

To that person paying attention: yes it did happen a little less than a month ago. And it’s probably going to happen next year and the year after. “It” is a college student dying of alcohol poisoning. This August, Louisiana State University student Benjamin Wynne died after drinking enough “Three Wise Men” (a concoction of Bacardi 151, Goldschlager and Jagermeister) to numb a rhinoceros. This “tragic event” was directly related to the wacky antics of LSU’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

Less than a month later (give or take a couple of weeks), Massachusetts Institute of Technology frosh Scott Krueger (subject of my attempt at free verse above) died after loading up on enough alcohol to power a city bus. The “tragic event” was related to the wacky antics of MIT’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta (affectionately known as “Fiji”).

Ever since the American college fraternity came into existence (1776, Phi Beta Kappa) young men have placed themselves at risk as a result of said organization’s wacky antics. But then again, young men have died as a result of all sorts of wacky antics from duels to wars to not drinking enough water during summer football practice.

I’m not making light of the situation; no parent sends their kid to a rest room like LSU to die in such a stupid way. The newspapers showed the funeral procession of weeping girls in their only dresses; stern young men in their only suits and ties, with close haircuts and freshly shaved chins, carrying the coffin heavy with flowers. Poor Ben didn’t know how much he really was loved. All he wanted to do was join the frat, have some fun… Eh, rich southern white fratboys. That’ll learn `em tuh stick tuh mint juleps!

But because a kid died at one of the nation’s finest engineering schools, MIT, the outrage was tenfold. Scott Krueger really was the best student at his high school. He had to study advanced math classes on his own because the school couldn’t offer them (Scott was smarter than the teachers, I suspect). He also tutored less fortunate kids in the area (upstate New York) and he was a pretty good lacrosse player. A high school gets one or two Scott Kruegers once every five years or so, depending on geography, parental encouragement, teacher involvement, etc. Based on the newspapers accounts, everyone who knew him was sure he was something special, of real promise. Perhaps he’d become a great biomedical researcher, someone who’d discover the cure for cancer. Maybe he’d be a great engineer or scientist who would solve the earth’s environmental problems. The world was his, thanks to hard work and talent.

MIT, however, gets about 5,000 Scott Kruegers every year. For that matter, the three military academies admit only Scott Kruegers. Harvard, Carnegie-Mellon, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, and other schools of such caliber collect their share of Scott Kruegers, too. They also get their share of filthy-rich sons and daughters of America’s “royalty,” but that’s another essay. And the purpose isn’t to take anything away from Scott Krueger. I just wanted to put things into perspective (especially after my dad went ballistic over this). Sure, he was the small town jewel, but this is MIT, every freshman was the best student in his class. And some do go on to become scientists, engineers, political scientists (e.g., actor James Woods), annoying leftist linguists, and economists of consequence. But some are weeded out by the impossible course work and go somewhere else. Some simply graduate and play their hands in the job market just like every other schmuck with an engineering degree.

The loss to the boy’s family and community is tragic, but had he not been able to get through the first year, what would the reaction have been? Sue the school for being too hard? Some students even find an answer in suicide. Who knows what would’ve happened. The kid didn’t even get through the first month!

I don’t mean to be cruel, but existence is cruel.

What really seemed to amaze people and supply the media with “useful numbers” concerning the case against MIT was a 1993 Harvard University School of Public Health article called “Binge Drinking on Campus: Results of a National Study.” The article is loaded with numbers, colorful charts and scholarly conclusions based on exhaustive analysis of voluminous data (17,600 students from 140 universities were surveyed about binge drinking). One of the authors of the study, Dr. Henry Wechsler, popped up on a few talk shows and Op Ed pages, too. The bottom line of his work: a lot of college kids drink and do stupid things under the influence of alcohol (it also found, this is no bullshit, that most binge drinking college students were male, white, into sports, were members of a Greek organization, and were not religious).

Well, there you have it. So, if the study was completed in 1993, how could something like this happen in 1997? Wouldn’t you expect the MIT elders to have read the paper and implemented action appropriately? Aren’t we all amazed at this? For God’s Sake: the data was right there looking us in the eye – and we ignored it! It’s a national disgrace!

Yes, said FIJI national headquarters, they are deeply saddened by the news of Scott Krueger’s death. Yes, said the President of MIT, we need to further our efforts on educating young people on avoiding the abuse of alcohol. Yeah, that’s what’s needed, a national frat saying it’s sorry and MIT calling for more education concerning the abuse of alcohol by fine young men.

Well, if my dad were in charge, the president of MIT would be in jail, joined by all the members of the MIT FIJI chapter, the FIJI alumni board, FIJI national, whoever sold FIJI the alcohol, the campus security and anyone else who so much as sniffed a glass of beer that night. After all, it turns out the FIJI at MIT had been busted before by MIT for alcohol policy violations! And nothing was done about it! (Young Scott apparently never drank, either. Why’d he start now? Why’d he need to join a frat, anyway? The lawyers will ask these questions…)

Well, someone’s getting sued. And with that Harvard study as ammunition, they’re not getting off this time!

Hey, FIJI! If you were smart, you’d have a Risk Management Policy like (the author’s fraternity), Tau Kappa Epsilon, prohibiting the purchase of alcohol with fraternity funds! That is, you can’t buy a keg with a frat check. Thus, the national organization and the local chapter (as incorporated) can’t be sued, their hands are washed of the matter; you’ll have to sue the actual people involved, who undoubtedly have less money. Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah!

You know something? TKE had their policy in place when I joined in 1981. Wow! They were more than ten years ahead of Harvard as far as knowing what college students plus alcohol equaled! (I guess TKE was tired of getting sued year after year by angry parents that they had to take protective measures just to keep afloat).

The I-told-you-so’s and other hindsights only add to the outrage. But let’s get back to the Harvard study. Considering that today’s college age person was born in 1979, a full year after the unrepentant wacky-frat-antic-glorifying film National Lampoon’s Animal House sold out movie theaters across the nation, I think somebody’s got some serious blame-accepting to do. Can anyone, in 1997 ask with a straight face, “college students drink to excess? Drunk college students do stupid things? Gosh?! Really?!” “Hey! If this study says so…”

I believe, however, that a lot of people actually are asking the question as if “binge drinking” was an underground phenomenon. They’re the same people who actually thought it necessary to sponsor a study to see if college students drank. Because no one is to blame in the 1990s. This is the decade where we’re all temporarily insane when we do stupid things and always someone else is to blame; see, I have numbers showing it, too! I challenge anyone who bore a child in 1979 to prove they were ignorant of the insane amount of drinking (and other activities) happening on college campuses since then. Hell, I challenge anyone who gave birth in 1919 to do the same!

All the national fraternities have to offer are “Risk Management Plans” covering the organization’s ass. All the schools have to offer are slaps on the wrist to the offending organization. Sure, the frat will lose its charter, and the school will host some seminars on the dangers of drinking. And look, Mr. Lawyer for the dead kid’s family, see what we’re doing?! See?! We’re taking action?!

Then again, let’s inject some sanity into things. First of all, it is shameful that somebody conned themselves a grant to study college drinking. Give me a break. Secondly, college administrators are professional worms. They don’t give two shits about the students. Oh, sure, they want the kid’s parents to keep sending in their always-escalating tuition checks, but show me the Dean of Students with balls enough to throw large groups of trouble-making students out of the school! (Well, I, personally, can name two, maybe three; well, make that… darn! I know too many…) When you’re talking about big name schools that cost a bundle, and you’re talking about fraternities costing a relative bundle too, Dad can afford to keep junior out of trouble. (Kids, just remember: college is the last place you can do things that otherwise will get you thrown in jail in the “real world.” Generally speaking, that is.)

But now we have this Harvard study that simply will not go away. The jig is up, time to pay the piper. Or is it? The study indicates that many college students do not binge drink, in fact some don’t drink much at all. Gee, we’re not all that bad after all. What is doesn’t show are numbers related to the number of college students who don’t get caught doing stupid shit. Nor does it discuss, not that it would, other things students don’t get caught at, like cheating on tests, stealing food from roommates, stealing clothes from the laundry room, playing mean jokes on each other which cause serious damage to property, person, and university. Not paying fraternity dues and still getting the perks. Or all the other crap that college students have been up to ever since there were colleges!

No, we obviously need further study on these things.

Well, I for one don’t need a damn study to tell me what college life is all about, I’ve been there and done that. Only in my case I seemed to get caught and reprimanded too much, so I gave up my life of crime and became a contributing member of society! But I still didn’t need a study to tell me the obvious. I can’t get over that people need a study to address a problem that’s already been solved. Solved? Sure, usually a fraternity that totally violates the rules is run off campus. Their charter is revoked in less than a day and poof! They don’t exist. Violating rules about alcohol in the dorms usually gets the offenders thrown out of the dorms! And I think colleges have the right idea: they punish offenders right away and with as little press hoopla as possible. Also, the age-old check against drinking in college, poor grades (i.e., get them and you’re no longer in college – unless dad bribes the profs), has never gone out of style. MIT’s weasely response has to be an anomaly. I can’t understand why they don’t come right out and say: “we are booting these assholes. They have no place in an institution devoted to scientific excellence. And a word to you potential students: if you’ve come here to party, don’t even bother showing up.”

But then again, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Work hard, play hard. Right? Eh, who cares?

I care because I know the answer to the outrage.

The question, though, is more important. Here it is: During the course of a school year a few college students die as a result of stupidity, either their own, someone else’s, or a combination thereof. But only a few. LSU is an enormous school and one death in 40,000 ain’t bad, is it? I mean, consider how many people die on our highways every day… I contend, though, that every year, hundreds of college students get away with doing something resulting from stupidity, either their own, someone else’s, or a combination thereof.

And that is the problem that is the shame of our academic institutions. It is a shame because it is these people, who never get caught, who grow up to do unreasonable things like sue tobacco companies for making cigarettes. Worse, they’re the people who don’t use their turn signals in traffic, the ones who cut you off, the ones who make illegal U-turns, the folks who run red lights. Yes, our universities graduate people who think nothing of cutting in line to see movies or littering. They don’t hold doors for people, they take up two parking spaces or steal the one you’re waiting for. They’re the 50-year old businessmen who get so drunk on an airplane they shit all over the place to get attention. They’re the folks who pay off the cops so their kids won’t go to jail. They’re the insensitive CEOs who lay off millions to satisfy stockholders. They’re the ones who are rude on the phone. The ones who think it’s OK to cheat because, if you don’t, you don’t want to win badly enough. They’re the ones who are responsible for bands like Blues Traveler and Saga getting popular. They’re the folks who put their suitcase on the seat next to them on the train instead of using the overhead rack. They’re the ones who didn’t think it would matter that much. Oh, come on, he’s just a kid… They’re the ones who smoked dope in college who are now on Capitol Hill fighting our war on drugs. They’re the ones who take a couple of extra french fries off the rack when no one’s looking.

They’re the people, who, when finally caught, plead ignorance.

Nice try.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jerimiah, 17:9.

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