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The University of Vermont’s Culture of Violence

by THOMAS H. NAYLOR

“If you could rape someone, who would it be?”

That was the question which appeared on a survey circulated by members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at the University of Vermont recently which went viral on the Internet.  UVM had once again lived up to its reputation as a place where wealthy kids from the Northeast, who can’t get into Ivy League schools, can come play in the snow for four years.

But why was this a surprise to anyone familiar with UVM’s culture of violence which dates back at least twenty years?  Who could ever forget the 1999 “elephant walk” in which freshmen members of the UVM ice hockey team were forced to wear women’s underwear, drink warm beer and liquor until they vomited, and parade around like circus elephants holding each other’s genitals? This incident resulted in suspension of the hockey season that year and the resignation of the University’s president.

Back in the early 90s alcohol was a contributing factor in the deaths of four UVM students in five years.  For all too many UVM students their motto is, “You can’t believe how drunk I got last night.”  More recently four officers of another UVM fraternity were charged with violating the state’s new hazing law enacted after the 1999 UVM ice hockey scandal.

UVM’s affinity for violence was reaffirmed by the announcement that it had entered into a partnership with the U.S. government-owned Sandia National Laboratories, known best for the fact that it designs, builds, and tests nuclear weapons.  Although Sandia’s research at UVM will not involve weapons of mass destruction, no one seems to care whether UVM is being used by Sandia to help legitimize its real business, instruments of death.  UVM will receive $9 million from Sandia.  Money still speaks.

Like most universities in the United States, UVM has an active ROTC program whose aim is to train professional killers to support the American Empire’s policy of full spectrum dominance.  Many ROTC students have four-year scholarships.  Upon graduation they agree to go anywhere in the world to which they are assigned by Uncle Sam to kill in the name of the State.  Ironically, UVM also has a premier medical school committed to saving lives rather than destroying them.

And then there is the case of Major General Michael Dubie, head of the Vermont National Guard.  For his role in sending young Vermonters to faraway places such as Afghanistan and Iraq to kill or be killed on behalf of the Empire, General Dubie was awarded an honorary UVM doctorate degree by the Board of Trustees.

The most exasperating aspect of UVM’s culture of violence is the indifference expressed towards it by the UVM board of trustees, administration, faculty, and students.  Neither General Dubie’s honorary degree nor the Sandia Corporation were ever discussed by the UVM Faculty Senate.  At most reputable universities, honorary degrees have to be approved by the faculty’s governing body.  Not so at UVM.

As an alternative, consider the case of Vice President Richard Nixon, who even though he was a graduate of the Duke Law School, was denied an honorary degree by the Duke Academic Council.  This same faculty governing body successfully blocked an attempt to house the Nixon Presidential Library on the Duke campus a few years later.

The real issue facing UVM is not the Sigma Phi Epsilon rape survey question, but rather how many unreported rapes have there been at UVM over the past twenty years as a result of the University’s benign neglect of its culture of violence?

Thomas H. Naylor is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of AffluenzaDownsizing the U.S.A., and The Search for Meaning.

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