Lowell Cohn: Cal needs to hit books

Stanford is better than Cal.

Stanford may not be a better university than Cal — then again it may be better. But when it comes to dealing with its football and basketball players, when it comes to fulfilling its mission to develop student-athletes, Stanford makes Cal look like some rinky-dink community college from the desert somewhere.

This is another way of saying a scandal-fueled controversy is raging across the Cal campus right now. Stanford never would face such an embarrassing, mind-blowing scandal over its football and basketball teams, never in a million years.

Stanford is better than Cal.

What I just wrote sounds biased, like I prefer Stanford to Cal. Sure I do. I went to Stanford for six years, 1966-1972, in the English Department and earned a Master's and Ph.D. there. I love Stanford. You should know that. I also know how the place works. You should know that, too.

The current scandal at Cal involves graduation rates — the GSR. According to numbers from the NCAA, Cal ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in football and basketball. Dead last.

Stanford, of course, ranks first. I'm proud Stanford ranks first, but it's what I expect and demand. I am sad Cal ranks last — my wife and stepson are Cal graduates and I admire that institution, generally considered the best public university in our nation.

These graduation numbers reflect the period 2003 through 2006, and Cal swears it's making corrections. And I believe Cal is making corrections, like firing football coach Jeff Tedford who let things go down the toilet academically. I mean, this is Cal with all its Nobel laureates, for heaven's sake. This is not (name the school) which is a feeder to the NFL, a minor-league team posing as a college squad, rah-rah and all that.

Shame on Cal.

I want to tell you how Stanford operates. I worked my way through Stanford as a graduate student by teaching Freshman English. Year after year, I taught Freshman English to those brilliant, innocent, eager 18-year-olds. One of my students was a handsome, smart, charming young black man named Jackie Brown. We had a class of about 15 and we sat around a conference table in a well-lit classroom in the undergraduate library. And week after week, Jackie read the stuff — Gide, Camus, Conrad — and debated in class with the others and wrote essays to die for.

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