Whether the men’s rugby team earned their suspension or not is shrouded in mystery. Administration won’t say exactly what it is that the team did, other than it involved heavy drinking and was “abhorrent.”The players and the bar protest that it was an ordinary night out and the inevitable rumours have begun to circulate. On the one hand, there are the horror stories about what ‘actually’ took place. On the other, there is the cynics’ belief that the misdeeds of the team — a team in a tier-two sport with a 2-6 season — provided a painless opportunity for the university’s administration to show they are tough on hazing, without actually doing much damage to the school’s athletics program.
Would the same punishment be meted out to the nationally-ranked men’s basketball team? The Canadian champion wrestling team?
Yes, says President Atkinson, but others aren’t sure.
The rumours combine with the sport’s reputation — last year’s hazing death at the University of New Brunswick, McGill’s annual infamous naked ‘elephant walk’ through residence — to create the kind of volatile speculation that tends to spiral out of control and cause lasting grudges.
A pity, because it could easily be avoided by simply providing the public with the facts. When action as drastic as suspending a team for an entire season is required, the reasons for the action are also necessary. To laud the school’s actions, to criticize or defend the team without them is irresponsible.
The university says that they’re keeping the details under wraps to prevent the team “further punishment,” according to the St. Catharines Standard. But the stigma of being suspended will certainly lead both students and the general public to believe the worst, so not releasing specifics will hardly do them any favours.
Keeping unnecessary secrets is a long-standing tradition at this institution. The reasons for this are not as clear as they would appear. The University of British Columbia lost a lawsuit to the university’s student newspaper this past summer, which resulted in the forced disclosure of the terms of the university’s exclusive beverage contract. The predicted earth-shattering, deal-breaking, corporation-deterring consequences were remarkably lacking. A couple of over-eager student journalists got to read a lot of legalese, the university still exclusively sells Coke, and corporations continue to line up to do business.
The sad truth? Secrets are neither as exciting nor as necessary as the James Bond movies of our youth would lead us to believe. They create a false sense of excitement around otherwise mundane bits of information. They also cause a lack of accountability. Transparency is necessary for both justice and democracy, which some still believe university students are entitled to.
Ontario universities, unlike community colleges and publicly funded universities in most Canadian provinces and all U.S. states, don’t fall under freedom of information legislation. While universities are required to institute their own FOI codes, the results are, to put it mildly, declawed.
This creates an atmosphere where everything that might cast a negative light on the institution is kept confidential and a system where the participants turn into mindless consumers rather than knowledgeable citizens. Students fund this university, through taxes and tuition, and have a right to an informed opinion about its workings — even about something as minor in the grand scheme as athletics teams.