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Sympathy for the Devils?

The Duke lacrosse rape case has made the rich white school in the poor black town a microcosm of bigger problems on college campuses

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"Some humans ain't human" -- John Prine

Compassion is wasted on people who can't feel any. Peter Wood complained of an unfamiliar callousness in some of his students, a harshness resistant to empathy and compassion. He used the word "crassness" -- a deliberate, fashionable insensitivity. As if kindness, courtesy and concern for the weak and the underdog -- the package they used to call "chivalry" -- has been declared effeminate and retro. Someone has convinced young Americans that life is a rat race, and they're not unwilling rats.

A court will decide whether this Neanderthal mind-set is conducive to sexual assault. But abandoning dogs and taunting racial minorities -- a detail the lacrosse case lawyers don't bother to deny -- is behavior neither high spirits nor distilled spirits will explain away. It's fathoms below sub-baccalaureate; it's subhuman, and it's all of a piece.

Though cheating and plagiarism appear to be coeducational, and alcohol abuse is gender-blind, the ragged antisocial edge of undergraduate delinquency bears the sour reek of curdled testosterone. Where the gradual, cultural erosion of student character meets combustible machismo -- a point never far from the athletic department -- institutions designed for scholars are breeding and harboring common louts. There have been several warnings, from Peter Wood and Reynolds Price among other faculty members, that Duke University was becoming lout-friendly.

Whatever happens in the lacrosse rape case, this is a devastating charge, one that Duke and other schools compromised by coach cults and athletic imperialism -- its in-state rivals are in no position to gloat -- will fail to address at a terrible price. What's at stake isn't reputation, recruiting, endowments or rankings in the U.S. News and World Report. What's at stake is their souls -- their reason for existing. And they know it.

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