Special Reports

PSU has become too 'student friendly'

In August 2002, Penn State President Graham Spanier announced an intention to reduce or eliminate 8 a.m. classes. By 2003, the university was well on its way. Spanier cited this as an effort to make the university more "student friendly."

A few years later, The Daily Collegian applauded Penn State “for sticking to its promise made almost three years ago to reduce the number of 8 a.m. classes.”

Last spring, the undergraduate student government proposed eliminating 8 a.m. classes on Tuesday and Thursday — making the university yet more “student friendly.”

By 2008, the number of students using the Mount Nittany Medical Center for alcohol overdoses had reached a new high of 558, nearly double the number seen in 2004. The average blood-alcohol level also increased to dangerously high levels over the past four years.

During the same time, neighborhood complaints and police involvement concerning public intoxication, noise, public urination and fights increased significantly. The trashing of downtown expanded to involve the ever-lengthening

weekend. Parties here at the nation’s No. 1 party school moved from football and other event weekends to Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Now, neighborhoods, police, emergency services and town cleanup crews must contend with increased service requests on weeknights and well as typical weekends. As evidenced by the State Patty’s Day fiasco, the No. 1 party school is now developing a reputation as the No. 1 party town in Pennsylvania as well. The town cannot afford to continue to clean up the mess.

A university ought to be more than a class factory or diploma mill; it ought to strive to be more than the nation’s No. 1 party school. It might start by reversing that “student friendly” experiment of reducing 8 a.m. classes. As an alternative, it might schedule as many classes as possible as early as possible — with required attendance.

This would do three things: It would allow students to make adult choices — party all week or go to class. It would teach work habits that resemble the employment world, where the business sets the schedule and demands sober attendance. Finally, it would allow neighboring residents to get some sleep. While early classes may not be “friendly,” they may be more responsible.

The university could take another step in setting the tone. It could declare all dorms alcohol free. To date, Penn State has cited several reasons it will not take this step: Students should be treated like adults; an alcohol ban would be unenforceable; there are some 21- year-olds living in the dorms, and such a ban would be unfair to them.

Now, many dorm residents strive to be inebriated before they head downtown to party.

In 2000, the university declared all dorms smoke free. This was done in the name of the health and safety of all students. It was accomplished in spite of the age of the students, the protests of the students and the free nature of our society. And, yes, some people smoke anyway.

Increasing blood-alcohol levels, increased need for emergency medical services and increased demand for intervention of law enforcement are health-and-safety issues — perhaps requiring the same level of intervention as smoking.

Becoming the nation’s No. 1 party school and the state’s No. 1 party town should be an impetus to take some action — even if it offends somebody.

It’s time to make the dorms as alcohol free as they are smoke free.

Bottom line: The university brings many good things to town; the student body is the lifeblood that brings energy, vitality and income to this rural Pennsylvania town.

But somewhere along the line, in an effort to be “student friendly” and in an attempt to be nonconfrontational, we have abdicated our responsibility.

We have lowered our expectations to the point where we and they are in trouble.

Students need a structure that will allow them to mature into adulthood. By university age, that structure should mimic the same environment and requirements that the less-fortunate youth are already contending with — workday rules and workplace expectations. To do any less is to not complete the task of teacher, responsible adult or nurturing community.

So let’s stop being “student friendly,” and let’s start being community-responsible.

Jeff Kern, a former State College Borough Council member, is a community columnist for the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at jrkern@resourcetec.com.