Wednesday, June 16, 2004

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Someone's been in the ivory tower too long

I've haven't been following the scandals involving the University of Colorado at Boulder's football program too carefully. What I have read about it is at a welcome distance. As someone who used to teach there, I can't say I'm particularly shocked by the catalogued behavior.

The tendency of CU-Boulder university officials to say idiotic things hasn't helped matters. One of the triggers for the mess was when coach Gary Barnett, in responding to questions about the alleged rape of female placekicker Katie Hnida by a teammate, called Hnida an "awful" player who "couldn't kick the ball through the uprights." Barnett was suspended pending an investigation, and later reinstated.

Alas, CU-Boulder's president, Elizabeth Hoffman, seems determined to follow Barnett's ability to put one's foot in one's mouth. From the KUSA (NBC's affiliate station in Denver) web site:

In a sworn statement, University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman said she has heard a four-letter word used toward women as a "term of endearment."

The comment comes from Hoffman's latest sworn testimony in connection with a federal lawsuit against the university. 9NEWS received a copy of the passage in question from the university after sources both outside and inside CU told us about it.

The suit was filed by women who say they were sexually assaulted by CU football players and recruits.

A lawyer for one of the women asked Hoffman about former CU kicker Katie Hnida being called the "c- word" by a teammate.

That player was later disciplined by coach Gary Barnett for making the remark.

In the deposition, Hoffman was asked whether the "c-word" is "filthy and vile."

She said she knows the word is a swear word, but "It is all in the context of what--of how it is used and when it is used."

She was asked, "Can you indicate any polite context in which that word would be used?"

Hoffman answered, "Yes, I've actually heard it used as a term of endearment."

A CU spokeswoman said President Hoffman is aware of the negative connotations associated with the word.

But, the spokesperson said, because Hoffman is a medieval scholar, she is aware of the long history of the word. She said it was not always a negative term. (emphasis added)

You can see the relevant portion of the transcript by clicking here.

Now Hoffman is etymologically correct -- at least according to this site, "the word wasn't always considered derogatory, even though it is today." (Click here for more than you would ever want to know about this word.)

And in further defense of Hoffman, here's a statement released by a university spokeswoman:

There should be no doubt that President Hoffman knows the meaning of the word in question and its current usage. She was in an extremely adversarial deposition with attorneys who have brought federal litigation seeking monetary damages from the university. In an effort to not allow the attorney to dictate to her a definition of the word, she defined it herself as a swear word. She was then asked if she was aware of a non-negative definition. She replied from her scholar's knowledge.

Unfortunately for Hoffman, this is one of those questions for which common sense suggests the obvious answer -- no matter how adversarial the situation. Responding as she did makes her seem way too detached from the real world.

posted by Dan on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM


I think you're really missing the point here. Hoffman is
basically trying to cover for the football program, but on the other hand also needs to make it look (to NCAA, which hasn't gotten into this yet but will eventually) that CU cleaned things up on its own.

It's a very cynical balancing act she's carrying out, and she'll
use anything she needs. Her statement is purely defensive;
she knows exactly what that four-letter word means but she's
weaseling out of it whenever she can.

posted by: Matt Newman on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM [permalink]

I'm a sports fan, but down with college sports. It corrupts everything it touches.

posted by: MWS on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM [permalink]

the durango herald had a bit more detail on the exchange as a whole:

the relevant bit is here:

The lawyer in the deposition was "very difficult," Hoffman said. "I can't even describe how nasty he was. I said, 'Look, it's a swear word. We all agree that swear words get used in lots of different contexts.' I must have said two or three times, 'It's a swear word.'

"He asked, 'Is there any polite context in which you can think of this word?' I thought of Chaucer: 'The Miller's Tale.'" That is a 14th century poem by the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Hoffman is a medieval scholar.

"I knew as soon as I said it that it would come out in the papers," she said. "I should have said, 'Read Chaucer's 'The Miller's Tale.'"

i wonder if we'll see the chaucer defense more often in the future....

posted by: jb on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM [permalink]

"I'm a sports fan, but down with college sports. It corrupts everything it touches."

This is one time where I have to place the blame at the feet of those who normally vote Republican. Very few liberals are college sports enthusiasts. Dan Drezner is lucky to be currently at the University of Chicago. His school long ago got away from such silliness. These programs are also extremely costly. This is one of the reasons why students have to get into so much debt.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM [permalink]

"This is one time where I have to place the blame at the feet of those who normally vote Republican."

??? Hard to argue with that logic. Wouldnt it be just as fair to say we should lay it at the feet of those who vote democrat because liberals have created and insulated college campuses as their personal PC laboratory?

On the upside, this foul woman has basically guaranteed herself being called a C everyday for the rest of her tenure.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM [permalink]

Yes, I'm sure Dan congratulates himself constantly on not being "forced" to attend top-notch basketball games like his colleagues at, say, Duke or UNC. Pity those guys, shall we?

Come off it, you guys. To say that what happened at CU is reflective of ALL college sports programs is no different from saying that what happened at Abu Ghraib is genocide/worse than Iraq under Saddam/indicative of moral rot in the entire US military.

I agree with Dan on this one--the Prez needs to get off campus a little more. She really should have gotten a bit more creative, maybe suggesting that CU**ies are the new female mascots of the school, that it is part of a "subversive" strategy for feminists "reclaiming" the ugliest word in the English language, that it is her husband's secret "dirty talk" nickname for her and drives her insane....The Miller's Tale. Ho hum.

posted by: Kelli on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM [permalink]

Hmmm... well Kelli I have known many college sports atheletes personally and while I wouldn't tar them all with the scarlett letter I'm afraid that the antics and such are in fact reflective of the culture as I've witnessed it second hand. There's a lot of promiscuity, a feeling of entitlement, and some misogyny. Last season I watched a visiting team bb coach allow a player suspected of rape - the DA was preparing the case - play on court with everyone else.

posted by: oldman on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM [permalink]

She needs to take a look at the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, where the f-word appears, minus its vowels, but the c-word is referenced simply as "the monosyllable" in the definition of "EVE'S CUSTOM-HOUSE, where Adam made his first entry." The word has been unacceptable for rather a while, it would appear.

posted by: triticale on 06.16.04 at 09:43 PM [permalink]

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