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.
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
”Party School” Rank for the UI
||Not in Top-20
||WE’RE NUMBER ONE
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.