Let’s Stop Blaming It on the Big Guy

Published: December 31, 2007

Some parents are unwilling to accept that their children are not perfect. The mistakes their sons and daughters make may even have serious consequences, but should campuses be held responsible for those blunders?

  • A high school senior sues his school for only giving him an “A.” He believes he earned an “A+,” and the “A” hurt his chances at becoming valedictorian.
  • The parents of a high school senior sues her school for flunking her, despite repeated warnings by the teacher and meetings with the student’s parents that she was doing poorly in class.

These are just a few of the lawsuits that educational institutions must face. Although the ones noted above are particularly ridiculous, they highlight a growing trend in American schools and colleges: Some parents are simply unwilling to accept the fact that their children are not perfect. The mistakes their sons and daughters make may even be very serious and can adversely affect their future. Instead of parents accepting their children’s shortcomings and the hard knocks of life they inevitably experience, however, some blame the educational institutions their daughters and sons attend.

I think about the times I performed poorly as a kid: My first season on the soccer squad; or when I started playing on the junior softball team. I sat on the bench most of the time but learned that with a lot of practice, I could improve. I never did play the entire game, but I didn’t sue because I felt I wasn’t rewarded sufficiently for all of my hard work.

Those disappointments taught me the value of diligence and doing things just for fun. Most importantly, however, I learned humility and to take responsibility for my strengths and weaknesses. Although I am innately skilled in a lot of areas of my life, athletics isn’t one of them. Amen.

——Article Continues Below——

Get the latest industry news and research delivered directly to your inbox.

I also made mistakes like occasionally picking the wrong friends, dating the wrong guys and drinking before I turned 21. Although I’m certain my parents would have preferred for me to never have committed those blunders, my screw-ups and their consequences, which were sometimes very serious, have made me the person I am today.

Unfortunately, the consequences of some kids’ mistakes aren’t so benign. An 18-year-old freshman at Rider University recently died from an alcohol overdose during a fraternity hazing. His parents have now filed a wrongful death suit against the school for not adequately supervising the organization, which has a history of excessive drinking.

Although I feel for the parents who must be devastated at the loss of their son, I’m concerned about the precedent this lawsuit sets if it is successful. I’m not privy to all of the facts of the case, but I do know the victim was an 18-year-old adult. Shouldn’t he bear the responsibility for his actions? If anyone else should be deemed liable, I would think it is his fraternity brothers who undoubtedly encouraged his dangerous behavior. But a university that has taken reasonable steps to police its fraternities? I don’t think so.

It seems in this and other less serious cases, we have become confused as to what our responsibilities are and aren’t. It’s much easier to redirect the disappointment, anger and pain we feel at someone else (preferably a big institution) than face the fact that the person we love is imperfect or worse — made a terrible and deadly decision.

Is it unfair that the young man at Rider University died? Yes. Is it painful for his loved ones who were left behind? Absolutely. But is the university responsible for his behavior? If it is, what can educational campuses do to change the traditions of so many Greek organizations and our society as a whole? And what if this young man were an alcoholic? What can educational institutions do to prevent a latent disease he may have had since birth?

You tell me.

Robin Hattersley Gray is executive editor of Campus Safety. She can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

Posted in: News

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series