Leef ponders party schools for Forbes readers

George Leef’s latest Forbes column examines the phenomenon of the “party school,” building on the Princeton Review‘s recent ranking of the University of Iowa as the nation’s top party school.

Quite a lot has been written about the phenomenon of the party school, which is to say, a college or university where a high percentage of the students engage in a great deal of partying. Murray Sperber’s Beer and Circus got into it (although the main focus was on the big-time sports environment; the two go hand in hand), Craig Brandon advised parents to avoid the booze-soaked atmosphere of party schools in his book The Five-Year Party, and last year’s Paying for the Party by Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton examined the effects that a major state flagship school’s sports and party mania has on different kinds of students enrolled there.

Now there is a new book on this distressing subject, Party School: Crime, Campus, and Community by sociology professor Karen Weiss. …

… The big point of Party School is that a large percentage of American college students have little interest in learning while they’re on campus; studying might mean missing out on some fun. Weiss writes, “For many students today, going to college is simply what young people do. With no particular ambition or plan of study, college is where young people go after high school to postpone adult responsibility and ‘party’ for four years.” …

… The heavy and extreme partiers actually see their activity as a kind of competitive sport, to show how much they can put away and how wild they can get. Of course, there are serious, adverse consequences from that behavior. Obviously, these students often do very poorly in their coursework, but they’re also apt to suffer injuries, illnesses, and legal troubles as a result of their reckless behavior.

But all such consequences are brushed away, Weiss writes, because the partiers say that such things “are just a normal part of college life.” …

… One aspect of the party culture that Professor Weiss might have explored further is the academic work that the heavy and extreme partiers do (or mostly don’t do). She informs us that very few of them major in demanding fields such as engineering or health sciences. Most major in a social science field or something else. I wish she had gone further into the questions raised by the intersection of a university’s academic requirements and the party culture.

How do students who get intoxicated several times a week cope with even the lightest of academic demands? Do they search for courses that are known for easy grading no matter how little work they do and how poorly they perform? Are they prone to submitting papers that were written by others, including ones they bought from essay mills? (That is a problem I discussed in this piece.) Do they cheat – and if they get caught, do excuses like, “Hey, last weekend I got really wasted after the big game, so how about cutting me some slack” work?

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