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Political Mercury

Dangerous ISU math: 5 strikes, Veishea not out?

4/23/2014

Let’s get this straight. Former Iowa State University basketball coach Larry Eustachy admitted to being an alcoholic — not after a drunk-driving accident or hurting anyone, but following the release of some embarrassing photos involving Natural Light and fully-clothed socializing with coeds — and he doesn’t get a second chance in Ames.

Meanwhile, around the ISU campus, thousands of students and their friends riot during the university’s Veishea celebrations in 1988, 1992, 1994, 2004 and now in the spring of 2014.

Unbelievably, the university is considering giving Veishea another chance following the profoundly disturbing reports of violence during the celebration this year.

For a school so respected for learning folks all about the wonders of numbers, this just doesn’t add up. It’s bad math and dangerous policy.

To be sure there are two Veisheas. There’s the daytime one with moms pushing strollers and proud dads showing off their alma mater to sons at a parade. But then there’s the nocturnal Veishea.

As the sun recedes and families head home, the frat rats and dorm drunkards wake from their benders ready for a staggering display of hooliganism usually reserved for seriously sauced soccer fanatics in Europe.

It’s time to kill Veishea. The suspension of the rest of the festivities this year doesn’t go far enough.

I’ve seen a Veishea riot first hand. It’s worse than you think.

Twenty years ago, as a reporter for The Daily Tribune in Ames, I covered the Franklin Avenue Riot in which about 2,000 drunken revelers went wilding on the west side of Ames, just blocks from campus.

They showered police with rocks and bottles, terrorized area residents, damaged local businesses and ripped down a large fence on Lincoln Way with ferocity one would expect from aggrieved parties in the Third World, not a bunch of generally middle-class kids from Iowa.

It’s the only time as a journalist I’ve been scared for my life. In the early morning hours of that riot, I interviewed then Ames police chief Dennis Ballantine at the corner of Lincoln Way and Franklin. There were bottles and rocks being hurled at us. He offered me a helmet.

Twenty years ago, after spending a week or more reporting about the Veishea riot and its fallout, I argued that the event should be cancelled, that nothing justifies the risk.

Clearly, the university made its own decision. Veishea continued, and may still, following its suspension for the rest of 2014. But for many of us who spent time on Franklin Avenue that weekend in 1994, there’s no doubt that Veishea is nothing but trouble.

Yes, a riot can conceivably happen any time in Ames — just as families can exchange gifts any day of the year. They don’t, though. Certain days are for certain things.

Veishea has an ugly reputation, a self-fulfilling one that school officials can’t shake, not even with a five- or 10-year moratorium or aggressive re-branding.

The people to blame for Veishea’s infamy are a few guys now in their 40s, the ones who lit those first couches on fire in 1988, setting off mayhem that year and planting seeds of violence that are ready to sprout in the beer-sprayed minds of young people at the spring-time festival every year. The mere mention of Veishea clearly inspires a mob mentality.

It’s stupefying that ISU officials, so cautious and even callous with Eustachy, a staff member who very likely had a medical problem, are being exceedingly deliberate in considering the fate of Veishea.

Fortunately, Veishea problems aren’t seriously undermining the reputation of an otherwise outstanding university.

burns doug 12-10-25But if the body bags pile up at a burning dorm, or tricked-out kids pull automatic guns next year, or a group of visiting high school girls gets sexually assaulted in a mosh pit of debauchery at an off-campus Veishea party, ISU officials will look incomprehensibly naive for dreamily putting the future of parades ahead of prudence.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist — or an Iowa State graduate — or both — to make this call. Kill Veishea. And bury it for good. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.                 

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