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Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman retires and defends a screwball tradition many see as hazing

From Moderator Hank Nuwer:   While I wish retiring University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman well, and commend him for accomplishments in academics and athletics during his long tenure, I respectfully and strongly must speak out against his defense of a UNL tradition that certainly qualifies as a hazing practice.

Perlman recently defended the senior UNL society known as the Innocents Society, a group that “welcomes” select newcomers each year with a “voluntary” tackle on an open field. (Video link)

“Tackling somebody in an open field when they know it’s going to happen, and happen once, is just not the definition of hazing as we define it,” Perlman told media representatives.

Why yes it is. And every time an organization gets caught in an initiation that is stupid, demeaning or dangerous, there is sure to be a fool from that group saying, “This doesn’t meet my definition of hazing.”  I’ve come to expect that of an undergraduate, but from a chancellor in the twilight of a long career? It boggles the mind.

Because actions like tackling a new member standing with head bowed is stupid, demeaning and dangerous, I suggest that Mr. Perlman revisit his limited and ignorant view of what constitutes hazing. Because such an act doggone well IS hazing is why many sports teams have gotten rid of such barbaric and dated customs as “Freshman Kill Day” for soccer and “Senior Hit Day” in football.

Like all hazing acts, there is real peer pressure on the newcomers and veteran organization members alike to continue the status quo. And for overseers like Perlman to poohpooh such practices.

I, for one, wonder if school and team insurance would cover a crippling injury should an “Innocent” newcomer or old timer suffer a concussion or a broken leg…or worse. Almost certainly, the university that Perlman has represented would lose millions in a civil lawsuit should a life-threatening injury to spine, head or neck occur.

Don’t get me wrong, I heartily applaud such distinguished service organizations such as the Innocents, and their long distinguished history and all the now-distinguished members who now are alums.

But tackling someone to get into an organization is risky, wrong and absolutely an act of hazing. Let us remember that Theta Chi pledge Harrison Kowiak died of a similar long-standing initiation when he was tackled hard to the ground and his head struck hard earth.

That ritual needs to retire along with Chancellor Perlman.

 

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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