When the news came out Monday that one of the top college-ranking services had pegged Ohio University as the top party school in the nation, OU officials reacted as if they'd stepped on a big, sharp nail.
The dean of students almost immediately issued a statement of displeasure, and not long after, President Roderick McDavis sent an email to all faculty and staff decrying the ranking:
"This ranking is not indicative of the overall experience of OHIO students and does not match the data we have collected. We take seriously our responsibility to help our students succeed in all facets of their experience, including addressing high-risk drinking."
McDavis cited the oft-repeated statistic that in the past five years, anti-binge-drinking programs and policy changes on campus "have helped reduce instances of high-risk behavior at Ohio University, including a 49 percent decrease in alcohol-related judicial violations"
Before getting to the meat of the topic, I would like to address two things:
1. OU officials' use of "OHIO" as shorthand for "Ohio University." PLEASE DON'T DO THIS. It's as absurdly stylized as "The Ohio State University," and no credible media (or anyone else) IS EVER GOING TO USE THAT STYLE.
2. University officials and Resident Life staffers in the past have admitted off the record that the statistic showing the significant reduction in "high-risk behavior" doesn't necessarily mean students are drinking or partying that much less. It's likely more related to the fact that stiffer penalties made students more careful about getting caught, while making Residence Life staff more reluctant to bust a student for an offense that could get him or her kicked out of school. On the other hand, if the stiffer penalties mean that students are better behaved when drinking, that's a good thing, right?
OK, WHERE WAS I?
Oh, yes OU officials' negative reaction to the top party school designation You really can't blame them for being wound up about this or perhaps more accurately, acting like they're wound up about it. It's natural for McDavis et al to worry that a big national PR splash about party-school OU could hurt recruitment efforts. So damage control must be forceful and immediate.
Yet, I don't think students need to worry about their academic degrees from OU being tainted by the whole party-school thing. This is despite the apocryphal tales about employers out in the real world downgrading OU graduate applicants because they went to a big party school.
First of all, OU's reputation as a party school has survived many decades of ups and down in the school's academic reputation. Back in the '70s, a trained chimp could have won admission to the university, academic standards were low, and students partied like crazy. Then, during the renaissance in OU's academic reputation in the '90s and 2000's, students still partied like crazed banshees.
I would challenge anyone to produce a valid link between the type of educations students have gotten at OU over the years, and its near constant identity as a huge party school.
Secondly, anyone truly concerned about academic quality at Ohio University probably needs to stop worrying about how many beers a typical dorm-dweller ingests on a given Friday night, and more about the steady decline in state subsidy for the university.
As a result of continuing state budget cuts, OU has had to cut faculty and staff levels, reduce curriculum options, and increase class sizes. This is at the same time that tuition and fees have continued rising in a state that has some of the highest costs for public higher education in the country.
Academic quality is linked much closer to the quality and quantity of faculty and courses at an institution than it is to a student's social life.
If I'm some faceless employer sitting in an office tower in Chicago, interviewing a former Bobcat for a job, am I going to worry about OU's party-school pedigree? Unless I'm an idiot, I'll be much more concerned that Joe Bobcat attended college in a state that evidently doesn't care enough about higher education to fund it adequately, and that transfers much of the costs for this increasingly lower-quality education to students and their families.
For generations, OU students have been able to party hearty and excel academically, without the one cancelling out the other. If the state money spigot continues to run dry, however, the partying may be the only thing left to celebrate.