SYMBOLISM AT OLE MISS
University of Mississippi Chancellor Porter L. Fortune Jr. announced last week that the Confederate flag will be dropped as an official school symbol. The main effect is that Ole Miss cheerleaders will no longer distribute Confederate flags to fans before football games. But there will be nothing to prevent fans from bringing in flags on their own because, said Fortune, "the university does not have the authority to ban the use and display of the Rebel flag by individuals."
Fortune's action angered many white Ole Miss boosters and students who see the Confederate flag as part of a tradition worth preserving at an institution whose sports teams, after all, are nicknamed the Rebels. But many of the 750 blacks among Ole Miss's 9,500-member student body objected that Fortune should have gone further and also dropped such other symbols of the Old South as Colonel Rebel, the school mascot, the use of Dixie as the unofficial school song and the Rebel nickname itself. But Fortune did none of that and, even in the case of the Confederate flag, seemed reluctant to go much beyond saying that it had come to be seen by many as "a vestige of an earlier and troubled era."
It's difficult to understand exactly what distinction Fortune was drawing in dropping the flag but not other trappings of the Confederacy. The elimination of Dixie as a school song might mean that the band would no longer play it after every touchdown, as it does now, but students could still exercise their right to free speech by singing it a cappella to their hearts' content. At any rate, the Confederate flag and other symbols are more than a "vestige" of some earlier time. Over the years they've also become symbols of here-and-now racism. When Steve Sloan quit as the Rebel football coach last year to become coach at Duke, he complained that Ole Miss's choice of symbols offended many black athletes and put the school at a disadvantage in recruiting. Lest anybody doubt that such symbols have racial associations, consider what happened last week when 1,000 white Ole Miss students, singing Dixie and carrying Confederate flags, staged a campus rally in support of the Confederate symbols. Some 500 of the demonstrators then marched to Fortune's house. After that, the marchers, some of them yelling racial epithets, descended, chillingly, on their ultimate destination, a black fraternity house.
WHITE HOUSE VISITS (CONT.)
Here's more on the NCAA rule against postseason trips that prevented North Carolina State's 1983 college basketball champs from shmoozing with President Reagan at the White House (SCORECARD, April 25). As already noted, the rule didn't prevent Indiana's NCAA-champion basketball team from visiting Gerald Ford at the White House in 1976 or two members of Clemson's national-champion football team from calling on Reagan last year. The Hoosiers claimed that the NCAA had agreed to waive the rule, while Tiger officials say they didn't even know it was on the books.
It now turns out that Louisville's basketball team visited Jimmy Carter at the White House after winning the NCAA title in 1980. Like the Clemson administrators, Steve Bing, Louisville's vice-president for university relations, pleads ignorance of the rule prohibiting such visits. "We were invited and we went," he says. "Nobody, to my knowledge, ever discussed it being against the rules. If it was a violation of the rules, it was totally inadvertent."
The revelation about Louisville, which isn't all that much of a revelation—a photo of the Cardinals on the White House lawn adorns the cover of the school's 1980-'81 basketball yearbook—comes as further evidence that the NCAA hasn't done much of a job of enforcing the rule in question. Just as clearly, it also suggests that member schools don't know the NCAA rulebook nearly as well as they should. Or maybe they just don't want to know.
ON THE ROAD
The Russell (Kans.) Daily News, whose usual fare consists of wedding announcements, wheat-futures quotations and the comings and goings of the most famous of its 5,427 inhabitants, Senator Robert Dole, carried a front-page story last week about a bit of excitement at a truck stop along Interstate 70 in the even smaller (pop. 124) nearby hamlet of Bunker Hill: