Keggers put Union on top of party school rankings

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
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— Students at Union College say they have to work hard, so it’s only natural that they party hard.

And that’s a view affirmed by the Princeton Review, which ranked the college as New York’s top party school of 2009. Overall, Union was ranked 13th among the 371 colleges reviewed in the annual guidebook, which was released Monday.

Princeton Review also listed Union as college with the most to do on campus and second in having the most dysfunctional “town-gown” relations. The college was also cited for having a very prevalent Greek life, beer-loving student body and an overall lack of integration among campus cliques.

“There’s no disagreement over the city of Schenectady; everyone agrees it is less than ideal, and worse, there is ‘nothing to do,’ ” the review states “General consensus is that fun means ‘staying on campus and drinking’ or ‘maybe an excursion to Albany’ for a concert.”

Princeton Review interviewed roughly 122,000 students via a 62-question online survey. Union was ranked between the University of Iowa and Indiana University; Penn State University in Pennsylvania was the top-ranked party school and the only other college in the Northeast to crack the top 20.

Union officials dismissed the ranking as arbitrary. Spokesman Phil Wadja said the ranking is far from scientific and doesn’t address the reality of campus life at the school.

“No one should take these rankings seriously,” he said. “The relatively small percentage of students who respond to these surveys don’t speak to the reality of the scene on campus.”

Wajda also pointed to a number of recent campus initiatives aimed at reducing drinking among students, including a mandatory alcohol education program for new students and a strengthened discipline policy. He said the college also hired a health educator and a director of fraternity and sorority affairs, both of whom work to reduce problem behaviors among the student body.

“These are all steps we’ve taken in the last few years that we hope will let our students make better decisions for themselves,” he said.

Hardly any students were on the campus this week, as the college’s summer break continues. Most of the fraternity and sorority houses — the groups known for hosting the college’s popular on-campus parties — were dormant Monday.

Other area colleges made Princeton Review’s rankings. The University at Albany was ranked second among the schools with the ugliest campuses and third for having students who study the least; Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs was ranked second among schools with the most marijuana users.

The few students lingering at Union were initially surprised by the ranking.

Upon further reflection, however, they seemed to agree with Princeton Review’s assessment and its ranking Union among the nation’s top party schools.

Some downplayed the notion of binge drinking among their peers and rebutted the notion that the college is a non-stop party school.

But they agreed that most students like to unwind at campus keggers after a long week of studying.

“It’s kind of like a reward,” said Anna Mueller, a junior at the college and member of a sorority.

Her sister Paula, a sophomore, agreed.

Whether it’s a weekend barbecue or a campus-wide ‘around the world’ party, she said there always seems to be something to do once the work week is over.

“It’s whatever you’re in the mood for,” she said.

Some doubts

Elite Williams, an incoming freshman from Schenectady, was pleased to hear about the ranking even though she doubted its validity.

She said the nearby University at Albany —a college ranked the top party school in both 1998 and 2004 —seemed to have a much more active nightlife.

Still, Williams said her observations during an incoming freshman orientation seemed to suggest a hearty party scene at Union. She liked the fact that the students seem both diligent about their work and social lives.

“Who doesn’t want a balance?” she asked.

Jeanette Sargent, a classics professor at Union, had a different take on the ranking.

She theorized that a number of Union students colluded to fill out the surveys in a way that would characterize the college as a major party school.

“They get together and fill them out so that it looks like everyone is aware of this,” she said.

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July 28, 2009
10:21 a.m.
albanyexpat says...

Well - another Capital District school makes the list. Nobody takes these rankings that seriously - but still, the methodology is worth looking at. If the Union students studied as much as they think they do, they probably wouldn't make the list. According to the study, the factors that get you on the list are excessive alcohol and drug use, and lack of study time... (you need both it seems)

I always wondered how undergrads really know how much they study relative to peers at other institutions, since, by-and-large, most students ever experience one school or one program....

It's time the college officials cracked down on what is clearly the out-of-control drug and alcohol abuse on the Union campus. They should check into these sophomore's "around the world" parties -- they're not exactly a cultural exchange.

This ranking is nothing to be proud of, and certainly heavy drug and alcohol use shouldn't be a "reward" for exam cramming.

July 29, 2009
8:20 a.m.
LVTfan says...

As a Union alum whose offspring refused to seriously consider Union because of Schenectady's condition, I hope Schenectady will look at what measures are needed to nudge its private sector into doing what needs to be done to make that city vibrant. It would be even better if Union's economics and poli sci faculty and students might start examining the incentives and privileges the current system provides.

Start with how Schenectady and other cities and towns tax themselves and the miserable incentives that structure creates. Schenectady would be far better off if it stopped taxing its buildings and simply taxed its land value. Update the assessments every other year, and share the costs of providing services in proportion to the land value involved.

Union's faculty needs to start thinking about this, and Schenectady's elected officials need to look closely at how they can shift things to nudge the private sector into making the city itself a good place to live and to do business. Union can make fine contributions to Schenectady. Look at how Skidmore and Saratoga feed each other.

Smart taxation could turn Schenectady's tide.

July 30, 2009
4:51 p.m.
unionstdnt says...

As a Union College senior, I have several issues with this article and comments that follow.

1. As a student who both studies diligently and drinks on the weekend, I see no problems with the schools social scene. Many students at Union juggle greek life, athletics, and clubs while maintaining high grade point averages. In my four years at Union, I have been surrounded by students who take their academics very seriously. Binge drinking by underage persons is a problem occurring on every college campus in the country . College officials do their best to reduce underage drinking and offer alcohol free social events.
2. It is unlikely that a group of students got together and "rigged" this ranking. Although I am quite surprised by it, it is unlikely that 5 or 6 people affected a survey intended for thousands.
3. Having visited a multitude of other schools, both small and large -including Trinity, Williams, Bentley, BC, BU, UVA, URichmond and other reputable schools- I would say their partying levels are pretty comparable to Unions.
4. The "around the world" party was an event hosted by the colleges "minerva system." It was monitored by college officials and policed by campus safety.
5. Having been in Schenectady for four years, I have found many things to do off campus. Options at Union are not limited to partying at frats on the weekends. Students attend plays at proctors, movies at the new theatre and alcohol free events throughout campus. Union professors and students are also currently working with Schenectady to revive the community. State Street has been undergoing reservations for years and is becoming a great place for students to hang out.
6. Based on Union's strong academic reputation, the high number of applications the school receives each year, and the amount of activities (both drinking and alcohol free) available to students each weekend, I would conclude that Union has found a healthy balance between academics and social life. Students study hard throughout the week and many do go to fraternities or bars on the weekend. I do no pretend that drinking is not a reality at Union, but I challenge you to find a school where it is not.

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