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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Party school! - whoa, wait a minute ...

Having spent most of my adult life in a college town - either as a student or faculty member - I was pretty sure that I had heard just about every story about party colleges, and well ... partying. Nothing could shock me - I was "unshockable," and, in fact, many years ago I may or may not have even done some shocking myself. But during a long car drive I listened to an intriguing episode of Ira Glass's "This American Life" (itself a sign that I am well past shocking age). This episode explored the newly crowned #1 Party School, Penn State. I was absolutely floored. I can not do the podcast justice here - you will have to listen to the entire thing yourself.

One highlight is that a huge problem in Happy Vallley is drunken students breaking into local's homes so that they can sleep it off. This is not just an occasional problem; it apparently happens rather frequently. Another story involved a police officer who was waved down in his squad car by three drunken students who demanded that he drive them to their next location. He refused and one of them kicked his squad car. He got out of the car to arrest the student and the other two physically blocked him while the other ran away.

Again, I can't do justice to the whole podcast here; you'll have to listen to it. I also invite Happy Valley people stick up for PSU in the comments (everyone deserves a fair defense). There is a response to the podcast here by a PSU student, but frankly he sounds more embarrassed than defensive. If anyone can beat the stories told in this podcast, I'd love to hear them - it's kind of good to know that you can still be shocked.

Posted by Jeff Yates on January 20, 2010 at 06:30 PM | Permalink


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I personally don't think there is any corrlation, the school hasn't been open long enough to see any trends. But with Penn State Football Tickets and other distractions I won't be surprised if this is true.

Posted by: PSUGlenn | Apr 16, 2010 10:02:06 PM

Penn State Law's class of 2009 had a 89.22% pass rate on the PA exam, higher than the Commonwealth average and higher than the class of 2008. (And the class of 2008 was a class made up almost exclusively of graduates from the Carlisle campus.) Passage rates in NY and NJ both increased in 2009 and both of those jurisdictions have lower overall pass rates than PA.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 4, 2010 10:24:04 AM

These comments (dead last . . . or dead wrong?) got me curious. Bar passage results since Penn State opened a second law school campus -- in Happy Valley: Penn State came in seventh out of seven PA schools on the 2008 bar, and seventh out of eight PA schools on the 2009 bar:

2008 PA bar exam
1. U Penn
2. Duquesne
3. Villanova
4. Pittsburgh
5. Temple
6. Widener-Harrisburg
7. Penn State

2009 PA bar exam
1. U Penn
2. Temple
3. Widener-Harrisburg
4. Pittsburgh
5. Villanova
6. Drexel (1st graduating class)
7. Penn State
8. Duquesne

Posted by: jj | Jan 28, 2010 10:57:17 PM

Well since I took the bait, let me respond by again noting that there was absolutely nothing quantitative, comparative, or measurable in any way in the TAL episode, leaving me to wonder what it actually showed about Penn State that is distinct from any other university like it. Do sexual assaults occur in the “Happy Valley” and do they disproportionately involve alcohol? Far too often, yes. Much like other places that haven’t been able to separate young people and alcohol. Is there a really unhealthy side to PSU’s neurosis about its football team? Yes, much like there is at Alabama, Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and other like places (which I’ve also seen and/or been a part of first-hand).

What I objected to is an implication, especially on this blog – which has a history of anonymous commentary trashing Penn State (and, incidentally, he/she/it/they are wrong yet again) – that PSU ought to explain itself and can’t. So let me finalize my objection. Your link to a supposed “response” to the TAL episode, for example, was not to a response. It was to an undergraduate columnist for the Daily Collegian who recently noted how embarrassing it was to be spotlighted that way on TAL. There have been several actual responses from the University, including one with a permanent link on PSU’s hompage. PSU has been trying to reduce underage and dangerous drinking for years, just like the other schools I mentioned. And I, for one, take this problem seriously. I live a couple of blocks from where TAL did their recording and cringe every time I see kids walking around drunk.

Was the piece embarrassing? Yes – much like being made into an example of how not to run an entire athletics program would be for Binghamton this year. But if this blog is going to invite commenters to trash schools as you inadvertently did, especially given all the axes to grind out there, it’s not really contributing to much of anything, is it?

Posted by: Jamison Colburn | Jan 24, 2010 2:37:01 PM

Having attended a former #1 party school, I feel your sense of frustration. The process of determining #1 isn't exactly scientific and it tends to taint the fact that great things are typically being done at these schools (this is certainly the case at PSU, which has an excellent pol sci dept, for what it's worth). I am quite sure that Ira & company could have gotten similar stories from a host of big football schools (including a few that I have either attended or worked with as a faculty member). Unfortunately, PSU was essentially in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is why I invited defender comments. Still, the stories from Happy Valley are what they are - and they are shocking - but they are certainly not unique among big sports schools (or possibly even non-sports schools).

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Jan 23, 2010 1:05:40 PM

quite right; next to last is not the same as dead last.

back to the point, i don't doubt that other schools, particularly large state schools, have similar problems on a similar scale. but the most damning revelations from the TAL episode were not the students dying from alcohol abuse, the students being raped as a result of alcohol abuse, or the students committing other crimes while intoxicated. the most troubling aspect was the university administration's admitted unwillingness to draw any connections between the saturday football drinking culture that brings in massive donations from alums and student alcohol abuse. so if the folks at penn state seem a little defensive about the episode, maybe that's why.

Posted by: anon2 | Jan 23, 2010 11:29:41 AM

I don't know where your anonymous commenter gets their information from (they're "dead" wrong) or where you get your sense of proportion from. Penn State has the largest Facebook community, the largest active alumni association, the largest football stadium, and, well, the largest fan base (voting for "#1 Party School") in the United States. That put the target on its back which brought "This American Life" to town. So if you can find me a university town--other than, say, Provo--without the issues identified in the piece (and then some), I'd love to hear about it. And Binghamton, NY, incidentally, isn't it.

Posted by: Jamison Colburn | Jan 23, 2010 12:17:36 AM

Maybe this is why, since the opening of a second law school campus - in State College - Penn State's bar passage has dropped down to dead last or next to last among law schools in Pennsylvania.

Posted by: anon | Jan 21, 2010 10:57:10 AM

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