My alma mater, West Virginia University, was just named the best party school in the country by the Princeton Review, a New Jersey company that publishes guides for college students.

Personally, I couldn't be more disgusted or embarrassed by what happened to my beloved school. It became the land of parties.

In the early 1980s, a college comedy handbook ranked WVU as the #1 party school. In 1987, Playboy claimed it was the 7th best party school in the country.

You were right. But labeling current WVU students "partiers" does a disservice to the name, lifestyle and religion the party once represented. It was much more than drinking too much (which it was). It was the larger concept of student-generated socializing—loosely planned, sometimes lawless, sometimes reckless—that was a hymn to the joys of pushing boundaries. What used to be an important part of higher education.

The Princeton Review based its ranking on surveys completed by WVU students who simply don't get the benefit of the story. Or maybe they lack ambition in the anarchy department. Anyway, they missed the party.

"Personally, I wouldn't want to go into an interview and say your school was ranked a #1 Party School," said Rachel Welsh, 22, student body president. “The labor market is much more competitive now. As students, we need to become professionals and not just graduates."

It's true that student body presidents are often idiots-in-training who are poured beer by normal students at football games. But Welsh and his vice president were elected despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that they said they didn't drink on the campaign trail. Students in my day wore the designation "Partier" as a badge of honor. Wastoid Boozers weren't great, but if you could have fun and still get grades, you were a more well-rounded person who approached college with a sense of risk and adventure, not fear and dread. Apparently, many of today's WVU students view etiquette as a potential brake on their career. How quickly things changed.

In the mid-1980s, WVU students elected a student body president who ran in front of the fraternity with a sheet robe and an empty barrel slung over his shoulder. His helmet of choice for Mountaineer football games was a helmet with beer holders and mouth tubes. He was smart, confrontational, uncompromising, and utterly glorious.

"There has been a sharp decline in alcohol consumption among students," says Randolph De Biase, whose family owned the Sunnyside Superette for three generations before selling it earlier this month. Students used to stop at the Superette to cash checks before heading to neighboring bars. "It's so tame here that if this is the #1 school for parties, there aren't many parties anywhere else."

Of course, no one advocates alcoholism or reckless risk taking. No one wants to see an empty bottle of Jack Daniel's flying over someone's head at a football game (really), but I can't shake the feeling that something important has been missed. Some joy. A bit of the thrill of chaos.

Today, breweries remind their customers to drink "responsibly." The drinking age has been 21 for years. Two of WVU's Fraternities - Fraternities! -- have banned alcohol in their homes and the rest plan to do so by the year 2000. This is a national standard.

But in 1981, my first year, 18-year-olds were allowed to drink. In high school our friends would drive (dad's car) across state lines to buy 6.4 beer because West Virginia beer was only 3.2% alcohol. In college, we started playing bounce room at the sorority bar. Irresponsible? Absolutely. You may accidentally swallow the coin!

Ground zero for WVU parties was an uphill section of University Avenue called Sunnyside, known for its hilly, ramshackle student housing and its chain of about 10 bars, all within easy reach of one another. These were classic dives where you could happily stand ankle-deep in beer, grab a plastic cup of nasty beer, and yell AC/DC at that cute girl in your PoliSci class. After a football victory in the early 1980s, students blocked University Avenue with a makeshift bonfire of cheap couches smuggled from their homes. Now there are only two bars left in Sunnyside. Even the main store is closed. Today's social scene is downtown Morgantown, in decent restaurants/bars selling $3 craft beers. What a buzz it kills.

The weekend before the start of the fall semester in August, entire blocks of Grant Avenue in Sunnyside shut down and 10,000 students gathered there for a sweaty bacchanalia of drinking, dancing and fun. No one knew exactly when it would start. He just did it himself. That was until it was shut down by the university and city police a few years ago after university president David Hardesty took office. Hardesty was sort of a long-haired student body president in the '60s, and he persuaded Hubert Humphrey and Pete Seeger to come to WVU to speak. But that was then. Since he became president, he has fought hard to dispel the reputation of the party school. Instead of the Grant Avenue block party, Hardesty, along with the student government, substituted a university-supervised gathering in an open area behind the student union, where students were given cards and only allowed to drink. five beers each.

"We had 12,000 kids {at this year's party} and no incidents," said Carolyn Curry, special assistant for WVU communications. “It was a controlled environment. We don't want to sound oppressive, but the key word we keep using is responsibility."

In recent years, an area near the football stadium called "The Pit" has become a tradition as the site of rowdy student parties, the backbone of the college football season. After a few fights and arrests, the government had had enough. Beginning this season, the school, in conjunction with the student council, will oversee The Pit and regulate the admission, conduct, and sale of alcohol. It will still be fun, college promises, but safe and controlled fun.

The words sound like the mantra of a new age: "Responsible." "Reviewed." "Professional." But one of the most important responsibilities of college students is to make their own mistakes and learn from them.

This means finding your own independent standards of thinking in an exciting and highly volatile group of people, rather than practicing the standards you'll have to meet when you finish school. Occasionally it means being totally irresponsible and engaging in actions that have consequences, and remembering them. It means treating the university like a petri dish for life: running experiments, some successful, some wrong, in a very safe environment.

At West Virginia University, which I attended for most of the 1980s (don't ask), the "party" took place in a relaxed atmosphere where there seemed to be a balance between drinking and studying in senior week. . The spontaneous student fun we had was collected, cleaned up and analyzed by the university administration. But maybe the school is just responding to the sea change in college mores. That said: Two years ago, Playboy considered revisiting its 1987 Top 40 Party Schools. But something has changed in the intervening years.

"In the '80s, everyone was clamoring to be on the party school list," says Elizabeth Norris, Playboy's director of public relations. “But none of the students wanted to do that now. They said it would hurt them to get a job. So we just scrapped the idea." * FRESH AND NOT SO MUCH SCHOOLS 1. West Virginia University, Morgantown. 2. University of Wisconsin, Madison. 3. State University of New York, Albany. 4. University of Colorado, Boulder. 5. Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. 6. Florida State University, Tallahassee. 7. Emory University, Atlanta. 8. University of Kansas, Lawrence. 9. University of Vermont, Burlington. 10. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. STONE COLD NOBER SCHOOLS 1. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. 2. Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania 3. Wesleyan College, Macon, Georgia 4. Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan 5. Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 6. Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass. 7. Agnes College Scott, Decatur, Ga. 8. San Francisco Conservatory of Music. 9. Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts. 10. Cooper Union, New York. CAPTION: WVU's Jody Buckhannon and Scott Alderman play games before work at a party on the first day of school Monday. LEGEND: WVU students blow off steam to the sound of toaster ovens.

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