Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, “Originality and a feeling ofone’s own dignity are achieved only through work and struggle.” Ifever the originality and dignity of St. John’s University were inquestion it is now. It is time for us to differentiate ourselvesfrom the leviathan that has become college athletics.
As president of our university, Father Harrington cannot allowour school to become further entrenched in solely a sportsmentality. We have tradition and we have a future, but that futureshould not come at the expense of our academics. Universities werefounded centuries ago for one purpose, education, but that purposehas become clouded in the United States. Too often, colleges caterto athletes and sports programs, looking for them to berepresentatives of their entire school.
The Ivy League schools are among the few that distinguishthemselves through their students and not their teams. St. John’shas allowed itself to be identified with its basketball team, andthis is precisely why the wound we have endured still stings. Noone is asking that St. John’s strive to achieve Ivy League status.Even if that were possible it would conflict with our originality,the facet of our school that makes us unique, our very mission toserve.
The same school the children of poor immigrants once attendedhas now overlooked part of their three-fold mission. According tothe St. John’s student handbook, “St. John’s is a Vincentianuniversity, inspired by St. Vincent de Paul’s compassion and zealfor service. We strive to provide excellent education for allpeople, especially those lacking economic, physical, or socialadvantages.” This clearly states how we are supposed to cater tothose who need help in achieving their goals; it is what makes usdistinctive amongst other universities.
Unfortunately, it seems that we now cater to the Big East, theNCAA, and any other athletic vehicles that bring revenue into ourinstitution. Why do we want to have a successful basketball team?Because it has become our identity, and when we lose, or when threeplayers engage an alleged prostitute it tears and it gnaws at ourentire character. Athletics dictates who’s who amongstuniversities; if a school’s game isn’t big enough to be broadcaston ESPN’s SportsCenter, then your university is not big enough orimportant enough. To many students, professors, doctors andeducators, this is a slap in the face.
This is the trap that St. John’s has fallen into; we went froman underdog program that everyone cheers for, to a “basketballschool.”
Our dignity as a university does not come from Chris Mullin,Mark Jackson and Lou Carnesecca; it instead comes from former NewYork governors Mario Cuomo, Hugh L. Carey, commissioner of the NewYork City Police Department, Raymond W. Kelly, and a slew of othersthat have and continue to impact our immediate community, city,state and country.
The road before us is fraught with struggle. We have seenscandal, and we have seen doubt but now the time has come for St.John’s to once again be the institution it was meant to be. Thefocus should be educating those who want education, not providing astepping-stone to the N.B.A.
There is much work to be done. All we need are the hands to doit.