Brooks eyes the son, who’s buff but showing a slight paunch. Brooks straps the belt around the son’s neck. "When you work out with it, it will work twice as fast," he says. "It is also totally therapeutic for stress . . . yet surprisingly affordable." Father and son walk off without buying.
Unfazed, Brooks turns to two Latina teens. "Do you want to lose weight from your stomach while you sleep?" he says with a smile. The girls stalk off. Brooks shrugs. "It has a use," he insists. "If it doesn’t work for one, it will work for another."
After taking "College of the Year" honors from the Time/Princeton Review College Guide, USC seemed well on its way to dispelling its image as the University of Spoiled Children. Admission standards were at a new high, and even East Coast intellectuals were calling S.C.’s outreach programs to its inner-city neighbors the best in the nation.
But then Evelyn Fox Keller, the eminent MIT historian and philosopher of science, appeared at this month’s Spectrum speakers series. Students hooted at Keller’s remarks on gender and science, and a student "coughing" fit led to a chorus of quacking noises and laughter. Some undergrads tried to clap Keller off the stage.
In a later phone interview, Keller dismissed the disruption as a bout of "tittering." Assistant dean of students Richard Fliegel said that the troublemakers were a small minority. But others in attendance found the boorishness widespread and outrageous.
"I wanted to hide my face and cry, or stand up and slap the jerks," assistant lecturer Emily Lundin said in a letter to the Daily Trojan.
Both those who defend and assail the students said that Keller’s Cagney-and-Lacey allusions and talk of academic in-fighting were boring. But during a previous lecture series, students also heckled renowned Angels in Americaplaywright Tony Kushner when he mentioned his male lover, attendees remembered.
"The Spectrum series allows students a public forum to voice anti-gay prejudice [Kushner] and anti-feminist bias [Keller]. So what can we expect when civil rights activist Julian Bond speaks on February 22? White hoods and burning crosses?" asked another lecturer.
Some blame the freshman writing program, which requires students to attend Spectrum lectures. Others say the flap points to a lack of intellectual vitality at the university. Two days after Keller’s appearance, hundreds of students lined up to hear Jerry Springer, chanting, "Jerry, Jerry."
"To take the behavior of a handful of students and to use that to denigrate intellectual achievement does a real disservice to the university and to the students who’ve come here to learn," countered Fliegel.
In any event, some lecturers are dreading the rest of the lecture series.
"You get 1,500 of these kids together, they’re an angry rich mob," one warned.