Students & Parents | Trusteeship

Blame adults for the party school epidemic

Playboy list scratches the surface of a broad problem
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS   |  May 21, 2010 by David Azerrad

“Where would someone who wants to live the Playboy lifestyle want to go to school?”

That’s the question Playboy asked in compiling its recently released rankings of the 2010 Top Party Schools. Yes, Playboy is now offering college advice.

The men’s magazine narrowed the list down to 10 (sorry, New York, none of your institutions of higher education are among them). It is however hard to see how such a short list does justice to just how widespread the Playboy lifestyle—booze-soaked parties, three-day weekends and easy hook-ups—has become.

That American college students party—that is, get hammered—is of course well-known. What people don’t realize is that rampant binge drinking is not a self-contained problem. Only because our colleges and universities are increasingly abandoning their educational mission is the party culture thriving.

Imagine you are a college student today. You spend on average 12 to 15 hours each week in class and about two hours a day on homework—half what most professors say is needed to do well.

Most of your classes fall between Tuesdays and Thursdays, and there are good odds that you have Fridays—and maybe even Mondays—completely free. In fact, you might spend more hours partying every week than doing homework or sitting in class.

Ok, ok, you say, so what if the kids are partying? As the lead character, himself in the seventh year of college, says in the “Van Wilder” college flick: “You shouldn’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.”

But tell that to the parents of the 1,700 college students who die every year from alcohol-related injuries. Or to the nearly 100,000 college students who are victim of alcohol-related sexual assault or rape. Or to 150,000 students who develop alcohol-related health problems while in college.

Think also of all the lost academic potential. A quarter of our college students say that drinking has had negative effects on their studies: Missing classes, doing poorly on assignments and lower overall grades. If the kids themselves are admitting to the damage, you know it must be serious.

University leadership can try blaming this on the rowdy kids as they try, like the stern deans in the movies, to keep them on the straight and narrow. Would it were true; at too many of our colleges and universities, undergraduate education now sits on the low end of the totem pole of administrative priorities, well beneath fund-raising and athletics.

Meanwhile, professors participate actively in this marginalization of academics. They, like students, cherish the compressed school week and the shorter school year as it allows them to focus on their research.

The well-documented grade inflation epidemic tells us all we need to know about the back room deal students and professors have made with one another. Grading has become a form of mutual pandering—a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” compact in which professors hand out good grades for very little work, and in return, students don’t complain that they aren’t actually learning anything. The average GPA, which stood at 2.5 in 1960, is now 3.1.

To fill this academic void, of course, administrators woo students by building lavish resident halls, fitness centers and other amenities that contribute more to a “country club” mentality than an intellectual one.

Is it any surprise, then, that for many students, libations take precedence over libraries?

It isn’t. But the antidote is clear: The adults need to step in and restore a strong academic culture on campus. After all, college students are wonderfully receptive, willing people. They will live up to high expectations just as readily as they now live down to low ones. The adults must simply make it clear to them that a college campus is no place for the “Playboy lifestyle.”

David Azerrad is a senior researcher at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an independent nonprofit group.


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