Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shame on Boston University

I guess I was just too naive. The godlike college sports culture that has infected campuses like Penn State, my beloved UCONN and others... That couldn't happen at Boston University.

BU still plays basketball in a venue that looks like a high school gym. Making the NCAA tournament for almost all athletes there means missing a few critical days of classes. Even the decentralized composure of the BU campus-- elongated down elegant Commonwealth Avenue-- it just doesn't lend itself to campus pep rallies.

But I can't hide behind my ignorance anymore. The influence of college athletics is evident at Boston University. And this school year, the influence is rearing its head publicly. Two Boston University hockey players have been arrested in recent months for alleged sexual assault charges against female students.

In response to the most recent arrest, which happened last weekend, Boston University President Bob Brown has established a task force to investigate whether the hockey team has created a culture that supports activity unbecoming the university, including violence against women. It's noble that President Brown took this action even ahead of resolution of the charges against each player--at this point they are still alleged to have assaulted female students. However, President Brown's action does not go nearly far enough.

I work in the PR business, and when I hear "task force," I translate that to mean an institution trying to sweep something under a rug. According to a letter from President Brown, the task force will render judgement this summer. This summer? It's a brilliant PR move, so that next summer the task force can issue a slap on the wrist. The players allegedly involved in the recent incidents will be long gone from campus; chances are the women involved will be, too. Ironically enough, I provide this perspective based on practices taught to me while I was a student at BU.

Even more disturbing than the pathetic task force are comments from BU's hockey coach, Jack Parker, in response to Brown's actions. My jaw pretty much hit the floor when I read this portion of a recent Boston Globe story:

“You can’t change the culture that’s evolved here; we’re not going to be able to step into people’s lives and change them drastically,’’ he said, referring to heavy drinking, casual sexual encounters, and co-ed dormitories.

What "culture" exactly is Parker referring to? If it's the culture created by his hockey team then isn't there a clear way for the University-- and he more specifically-- to step in and change their lives?

To President Brown and Coach Parker, it's crunch time. The veneer over college athletics has been pulled back. Penn State made sure of that. As was the case in College Park, we are dealing not merely with a culture created by college athletics that supports illegal activity; we are dealing with alleged crimes supported by that culture that are beyond horrific. The mere allegations should prompt a swift and decisive response from the university.

President Brown, I call on you to immediately take the following actions:

1) Enact the recommendations made by BU's Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism, according to the Boston Globe, and hire someone who can provide counseling to the alleged victims. Provide immediate, mandatory training to all athletes regarding potential sexual activities that are not acceptable within the BU community.

2) Impose a zero-tolerance policy on all BU athletes regarding their conduct. Extend rules of conduct to involve multiple areas of their lives-- drinking, social activity, even dress code. It is a privilege for these students to wear the uniform, and no doubt the vast majority of the athletes know this. Enforcing the rules related to that privilege-- and creating rules that do not exist-- merely supports the good standing of the vast majority of the athletes. If athletes break the rules, they will be immediately suspended from their respective teams.

3) Lean on experts in the areas of violence toward women, and accept and implement any and all recommendations from them so that BU can create a culture where women feel comfortable talking about situations where they are threatened or are victims. I am not an expert on the topic, but I fear there are many other women who have been victims that don't have the extraordinary courage necessary to come forward.

Above all, I don't want to hear anything more about a task force.

Even today, many years after leaving campus, I often gather with fellow alumni and we pontificate about how former President John Silber would have reacted to certain events on campus. If he were President today, BU's college hockey season would be over.

Editor's Note: Pull-out quote from: "BU to Investigate Hockey Culture," by Mary Carmichael; Boston Globe (online version), February 24, 2012.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Spirit of the Rivalry

With good friend (and BC supporter) Sarah McNeeley at the Beanpot
TD Garden, Boston
February 14, 2005

The Beanpot is a uniquely Boston event. Every year, during the first two Mondays in February, the four local Boston college hockey teams: Boston College, Harvard, Northeastern and my alma mater, Boston University, face off in a round-robin tournament. The games don't count toward conference standings (even though three of the teams play in Hockey East), and in the minds of anyone outside of Boston, the tournament in reality means nothing. Yet a ticket to the Beanpot is one of the most sought-aftern items in town.

I have been fortunate enough to attend the Beanpot tournament each year since I was a freshman at Boston University in 1995. For the majority of the past 10 Beanpots, I have sat nearside good friend Sarah McNeeley, pictured above, a loyal graduate of Boston College, BU's Commonwealth Avenue rival. The Beanpot would not be the Beanpot unless a fan of your arch rival is sitting a few feet away.

Tomorrow night, BU and BC play for the Beanpot title, and yes I will again be sitting somewhere near Mrs. McNeeley. In preparation, I just made a trip to the BU Bookstore to garb up. Apparel is crucial.

BU fans take the Beanpot very seriously because it's the only sporting event that the Terriers can actually win. The Beanpot turns 60 this year, and the BU team has carried the Beanpot championship trophy back to campus 29 times.

If BU wins tomorrow, the tally climbs to 30, 1/2 of all Beanpots played. Hopefully Sarah doesn't spill a beer on me.

Ross Levanto, Known Scotch Drinker

Yesterday I watched "Safe House."

During one scene, CIA agents tracking the protagonists noted another individual who had just entered the plot, a gentleman named Villar. They described him as "Carlos Villar, known document forger." One of the main characters, played by Denzel Washington, visited Villar, who happened to be an old friend, to get a new fake passport.

It got me thinking of what the CIA says about me, in that short descriptor that would follow my name. "Ross Levanto, known PR practitioner," doesn't exactly have a furtive ring to it. Maybe in Boston they would say "Ross Levanto, known Yankee fan."

One excellent point made by a good friend following the movie: If Villar is a "known document forger," why don't the police just go arrest him? I guess the whole point with the descriptor is to be known as someone who, while on the lam, is not really worth paying attention to---unless Denzel Washington shows up.

I have decided I would like to be described this way: "Ross Levanto, known Scotch drinker." And I welcome Denzel for a pour anytime.

Local Democratic Caucuses: Cardboard, Glue and Scissors

I was watching CNN coverage of the Presidential caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado this past week, and the announcers were somewhat amazed at the crude nature of the proceedings. Votes made on paper, tallies counted by hand, and oftentimes results written on a chalkboard. CNN rushed to deliver the counts from the inside of the caucus room: Romney 9, Santorum 8. Early momentum!

I have helped lug poster board to local political caucuses for a few years now, so the low-tech nature of these gatherings is not a shock to me. And yesterday, all across Massachusetts, Democrats began to gather in local caucuses to conduct business with sharpies and easels.

In American politics, caucuses are where the process comes closest to the people. While those who help organize the caucuses-- myself included-- typically have an agenda and course of events in mind, the reality is a caucus is run by the people who attend. It's an opportunity on the most local level for voters to influence the course of their party.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party identifies a window of a few weeks this time of year for the party's most local bodies-- ward committees and city and town committees- to host caucuses. That window opened yesterday and continues through February. My local committee, the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee, hosts its caucus on Saturday, February 18 at 10 a.m. at the First Church in Boston in the Back Bay.

Within the party organization, the caucus serves at least one very important function, selecting delegates to represent the local committee at the state party convention, which is typically held the first Saturday in June. Most don't know this, but the state convention is where candidates for state-wide office are selected. This year, Elizabeth Warren and Marisa DeFranco are vying to become the party's nominee in the U.S. Senate race against Senator Scott Brown. If both candidates do not earn at least 15-percent of the delegate vote at the state convention, then only one of them will move on, and there will be no need for a primary in the race. So those delegates are important.

There are a lot of intricacies to the process, but the reality is, it all does start with the caucuses, with individual party members (aka registered Democrats) getting their chance in a public forum to influence party business. For all the talk of insider baseball and party favors, we often lose sight of the fact that fundamentally, the Democratic party must return to the people each year and organize the local caucuses.

If you are a registered Democrat, I encourage you to find your local caucus and participate. Those who live in Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Bay Village, and the part of Chinatown in Ward 5, I will see you on the 18th.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

It's America's Big Party Sunday

Now I admit I like football, but really what's not to like about the Superbowl?

There's a lot of food. There are celebrities and even red carpets. Oh, and yes, there's a football game.

They say that today's game will be the most watched television event ever. And not everyone is watching for the football. There are the new commercials. Most are available online, but it still is something to see them live.

Many restaurants in Boston are having football parties, but the Superbowl is really about gathering with friends and/or family. Going to house parties where the crock pots have been on and where the betting chart is on the wall.

And then there's the halftime show.

There won't be anyone on the roads in Boston between 6 and 10 this evening. And many restaurants are closed too, including one of my favorites Panificio on Beacon Hill (which is closing at 5).

To everyone enjoying this great American holiday, I wish you the best. And since according to the Wall Street Journal some 1.25 billion chicken wings will be consumed today, does anyone have any TUMS?

Oh, and go Patriots!