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Published: Thursday, 8/4/2011

COMMENTARY

Alumni should raise a toast to OU's top-party-school title

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COMMENTARY WRITER

So proud. My alma mater reigns supreme in a national rating of colleges and universities that make Animal House look tame.

Finally, Ohio University has been recognized as the No. 1 party school in the country. It's about time. Two universities in towns called Athens competed for the honor, but OU beat the University of Georgia.

Take that, Bulldogs. Even Brutus Buckeye knows not to mess with the Bobcat, a first-rate party animal with a reputation to uphold at a school that throws raging parties.

There isn't an OU alum, at least from the '70s forward, who doesn't have fond memories of the Halloween bashes that packed the streets of downtown Athens. Those were the days of over-indulging, riotous conduct that was totally unbecoming an undergraduate.

The nostalgia is rich. Students at every institution of higher education, even stuffy Ivy League schools, have memories of cutting loose now and again. They just don't excel at it the way we do in the heartland.

Being the best at having fun doesn't happen overnight. For 12 years, OU had to settle for runner-up on the party school list compiled by the Princeton Review. But it persevered and made it to the top.

While university administrators may cringe at the notoriety bestowed on their campus in the annual nationwide survey of students, alumni scattered throughout Ohio and elsewhere are giving each other high fives.

OU people know how to have a good time and succeed. Of course they don't endorse what OU President Roderick McDavis called "high-risk behavior" among students in the use of alcohol and drugs.

Many alumni are themselves parents of kids of college age or younger, and preach zero tolerance of the excesses they understand all too well. But many OU grads are also professionals in numerous fields who credit Ohio's first public university with giving them a solid academic foundation.

Graduates of the acclaimed E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, for example, can be found in newsrooms throughout the United States. They practice all aspects of the discipline, from writing and reporting to editing and management.

Overlooked in the hubbub about OU's party prowess was the high ranking awarded the college newspaper, The Post. It's not easy working on the daily and carrying a full credit load, but plenty of us are glad we did.

Without doubt, former Posties from New York to Los Angeles will be among those weighing in on the Review's latest edition of college rankings and toasting the results. The poll findings, based entirely on what students say they experience, list winners in 62 categories from best campus food (Wheaton College) to best athletic facilities (Georgia Tech).

There's also most beautiful campus (Florida Southern College) and even happiest students (Rice University). Other school categories in the 2012 guidebook, which went on sale this week, include best professors (Wellesley College), most conservative, (our area's own Hillsdale College), least religious students (Bennington College), and top stone-cold sober school ( Brigham Young University).

Personally, I'd choose most rambunctious over most buttoned-down any day.

The Princeton Review, not affiliated with Princeton University, is a company that sells test preparation courses, educational services, and books. Its best-colleges guide, say offended college officials, is unscientific at best and shameful at worst.

Nonetheless, it's a popular tome. Every year, for some perverse reason, the winner of the party-school vote makes the biggest splash in the student survey.

Some theorize that the distinction gives bragging rights to graduates who, as Bill Chappell, a National Public Radio producer and blogger, put it, like to "look back on their university days with pride, and the knowledge that they really did have more fun than the yahoos at the other school."

By the way, Mr. Chappell is a graduate of Georgia, which OU beat for the honor this year.

Others recall that in small-college towns such as isolated Athens in the Appalachian foothills, entertainment was often such that one simply had to improvise.

Still, OU's party reputation has long vexed administrators. They are right to denounce any glorification of binge drinking or other dangerous student activity, and to emphasize that alcohol is not central to the overall experience at the university.

But lighten up and party on, Bobcats. Embrace the publicity and build on it to show what really makes OU the best.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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