Dear Dr. Mason

an Open Letter to Dr. Sally Mason

I recently submitted a letter (included below) to University of Iowa President Sally Mason, containing a couple of ideas related to reshaping the campus culture away from excessive drinking. After yesterday’s report from the Princeton Review containing the latest rankings of so-called “party schools”, the UI has the dubious honor of being placed in the top spot. This story has become wildly popular with the National media, who dutifully regurgitate the rankings ad nauseam as filler in the 24-hour news cycle.

The rankings are based on surveys in which an average of 333 students per campus are asked 80 questions about a range of subjects in the last three school years. Its methodology uses a five-point scale, allowing for school-to-school comparisons.
CBS News

My admittedly very simple and modest suggestions1 seemed especially relevant and timely, so I was eager to send them to the President herself for no other reason than not wanting to kick myself for saying nothing at all later. I also think that these lists are a disservice to the students, faculty, staff and administration of an undeniably excellent academic institution. I am publishing it here for others to encourage them to think about this issue themselves and to submit their own thoughts, suggestions, concerns, and feedback to the President.

It isn’t just that I am resentful of the notion that the UI is being portrayed as a “party school”, I’m actually more resentful2 that as a society this is something that would be lauded. These rankings in particular are especially insidious and erosive:

In 2003, the American Medical Association requested that the Princeton Review remove the party school rankings from its college guides. Dr. Richard Yost, director of the AMA’s Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, said, “The Princeton Review should be ashamed to publish something for students and parents that fuels the false notion that alcohol is central to the college experience and that ignores the dangerous consequences of high-risk drinking. College binge drinking is a major public health issue and a source of numerous problems for institutions of higher learning.”

The accuracy of The Princeton Review’s rankings has also been questioned, *especially with regards to the larger schools*3. Experts argue that the sample size of students surveyed at each college (three hundred students, on average) is not enough to provide a truthful depiction of student behavior. “It’s positively unscientific,”

Dr. Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Studies Program

To be frank, I have a suspicion4 that the limited sample set of people surveyed (only 333 on our campus) may be participating in a concerted effort to troll the President, who has taken many steps to curb excessive drunken stupidity at sporting events and in the downtown Iowa City area, alongside other University officials. If that’s the case, like most trolls, they don’t seem to have much of an exit strategy or end-game beyond the hopes of one day being free from their tyrant and putting on a toga to better enjoy a months-long bender with their newly appointed President and former Dos Equis official: The Most Interesting Man in the World.

It’s no secret that there are some vocal people who speak against President Mason and her initiatives and she has had her share of critics in general since she became President in 2007. The table you see below illustrates our meteoric rise to prominence.

“party school” rankings by year

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Year

”Party School” Rank for the UI

2004 Not in Top-20
2005 8th
2006 9th
2007 12th
2008 12th
2009 12th
2010 9th
2011 11th
2012 2nd
2013 WE’RE NUMBER ONE

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It’s very likely that this is completely coincidental, but the fact that the survey methods suck and she’s been laying the smack down extra fierce the last couple of years makes me wonder. Especially considering the timing on this post on the Twitter Machine:

 

I don’t know where they got “No. 4” unless it was from some other equally idiotic list of “party schools”; I think I did a pretty good job of fetching the stories from each year I put in the table using Princeton Review’s press releases and “reports”, but I could have made a mistake. I’m merely trying to adhere to the scientific and methodical standards dictated by the Princeton Review research team.

Anyway, I promised you an Open Letter to Dr. Sally Mason. Thanks for bearing with me for this long.

Dr. Mason & Staff,

I am of the opinion that having the reputation as being a “party school” damages the reputation of the University of Iowa as an institution and devalues the important research conducted here in addition to the academic performance of our students. It also casts a shadow on the exceptional faculty that we work hard to recruit and retain.

I work in UCC and walk past UniversiTees every day between the bus and the ITS offices (2900) and today in particular right after the news that the UI has risen in the dubious ranks of “party schools” I noticed that this shop (and presumably many others) has merchandise promoting this aspect of the UI sold alongside their licensed and authorized University of Iowa ‘merch.

I know that the University of Iowa licensing agreement stipulates that merchandise will not be approved if the item relates to drug or alcohol use among other restrictions, but I was wondering if the business of selling University of Iowa licensed merchandise was a larger business they cared more about than the novelty shirts and accessories that promote the image of our campus as a “party school”? I wonder if it is time to consider the whole spectrum of merchandise a vendor sells when determining licensing?

There are a couple of options that I believe could help influence the perception others have on the UI. For example:

  1. Changing the language and terms of our licensing agreement with vendors, precluding vendors that sell official licensed University of Iowa merchandise from selling products that are contrary to the mission of the University or otherwise unable to meet the requirements of officially licensed merchandise.
  2. Instituting a higher licensing fee on those vendors that sell merchandise that is precluded from licensing of the University of Iowa logo, name, and images in addition to merchandise that has been licensed for the use of the name and logo of the University of Iowa. The proceeds of that premium could be used to fund services and education efforts for students, faculty, and alumni from Student Health, RVAP, and other organizations across campus that are at a disadvantage when confronted with a growing (and effectively co-sponsored) culture of excessive use of alcohol and other controlled substances.

I don’t know if this is ultimately in the best interest of the UI, I don’t know anything about potential revenue issues this could present, and I don’t know if there is even something similar to either of these already in place. I don’t even know if it’s legal. I just wanted to speak up before the semester starts and you get even busier because it has been on my mind a lot lately and I think the market value of the brand of the University of Iowa is worth far more than t-shirts proclaiming that our city is a drinking town with a football problem.

Sincerely,
Me

 


  1. From someone with no credentials at all on this subject, much less a college degree, mind you 

  2. and to be honest, a little insulted 

  3. Emphasis added 

  4. What can I say, I love a good conspiracy