FSU administrators chagrined by `party school’ label

By Kathleen Laufenberg Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) TALLAHASSEE, Fla. _ Sure, FSU’s faculty includes Noble Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winners. And, yeah, top scientists do travel to its Mag Lab to use the world’s largest magnet. But slide those facts aside. Because what seems to pop into most students’ minds when FSU is mentioned is: Woo-hoo! Party on, dude! The idea that Florida State University is among the nation’s top party schools _ some say it’s No. 1 _ has been around for several years. FSU has frequently appeared in the Top 10 party-school lists published by the Rolling Stone and The Princeton Review. College administrators have responded with alcohol education classes and crackdowns on underage drinking. Yet the party label lives on _ surfacing most recently in a rather lengthy article in The Harvard Crimson. The story chronicles the experiences of Harvard University junior Peter Hopkins, who zipped down to FSU last month to discover what a real party school is like. He wasn’t disappointed. Among his story’s more eyebrow-raising assertions: That Tallahassee is “a town that has long looked forgivingly upon underage drinking and other college revelry,” and that FSU’s party calendar “works on a six-night schedule as opposed to a one- or two- or zero-night rotation in Cambridge.” The article has been circulating via e-mail around FSU and among some alumni. Hopkins, now back in Cambridge, said his paper has received “about 20 or 30 letters to the editor,” many from Tallahassee. Some were friendly; others not. “We’re really surprised at all the response we’ve gotten,” he said, adding that he didn’t intend the story to be derogatory. “Florida State has a national reputation as being a pretty devout party school. . . . It certainly lived up to the expectation . . . I hope FSU takes the compliment.” FSU’s new president, however, dismissed the story as a lot of student ink signifying nothing. “It’s just somebody writing an article,” T.K. Wetherell said. Underage drinking “is not something we endorse by any stretch of the imagination.” Mary Coburn, vice president for student affairs, concurred. “Obviously I don’t agree with the article. We have worked very hard to publicize all that is excellent about the university. . . . The university is respected across the country for its academics.” Yet when six FSU students randomly selected were asked by a Tallahassee Democrat reporter whether FSU deserved the reputation as one of the nation’s top party schools, they unanimously agreed that, yes, it certainly did. “Absolutely,” said Joey Sayegh, a senior in business management. “Without a doubt. I have lived here for four years, so I know that from experience.” More, said Kevin Harloff, a junior in English, “We want to be known as a party school.” Grinning, he added: “I’m supposed to be a senior, but I partied too much.” Students were quick to say, however, that underage drinkers have to be more careful now than in the past: Undercover police have increased their presence in bars, student-apartment complexes and other hot spots, looking to bust underage drinkers. They’re right, said A.J. Smith, chief of the Bureau of Law Enforcement at the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. For about the last eight months, Smith said, state and local police have been coordinating their efforts to crack down on underage drinking in Tallahassee. From July through November of last year, his agents and others arrested 428 people for underage drinking. (Of Smith’s 150 agents, 10 work in the Tallahassee area.) If caught, an underage drinker faces a second-degree misdemeanor charge. Although Smith said such an offender could be taken to jail, many are issued citations that require a later court appearance. “It can be a very expensive experience,” said Major Jack Handley, of the FSU Police Department. FSU police take underage drinking and alcohol abuse very seriously, he added. “We have not turned a deaf ear in years,” Handley said. “We know that the ripple effect of alcohol results in more severe crimes” such as date rape. In addition to the legal fallout of underage drinking, the university imposes its own consequences, FSU administrator Cheryl Brown said. First-time student offenders generally face probation and must attend alcohol-education classes. Parents may also be notified. Last year, she said, FSU handled roughly 450 cases involving drinking. During football season, underage drinkers may also have to contend with the Tallahassee Police Department’s Party Patrol, a special detail guaranteed to chill out the hottest party. The patrol targets noisy gatherings in residential neighborhoods, and operates on an as-needed basis after football season. Still, FSU senior Sayegh noted, “There’s so much of it (partying) going on, they can’t get to it all.” Hopkins, the Harvard writer, said he found plenty of unimpeded partying during his visit. He settled in at the Palace Saloon, where he found “nothing at all unusual . . . except that it was filled to capacity at almost 2 a.m. on a Monday night (Tuesday morning), its busiest night of the week. It’s hard to imagine anything filled to capacity at 2 a.m. on a Monday in Cambridge, except for the library, but that closes at 1 a.m.” FSU administrators, however, just don’t buy the idea that FSU is any more of a party school than many other universities. “Once you have the label, it’s really hard to shake it,” Brown said. “It’s more perception than reality.” ___ ‘copy 2003, Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee, Fla.). Visit Tallahassee Democrat Online at http://www.tdo.com/ Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.