Toeing the Party Line


A few weeks ago, I found myself in the process of getting my nails done when a fellow patron of the salon noticed my Michigan apparel, leaned towards me conspiratorially and asked, “Do you know the students who destroyed that ski resort?”

Ah ski trip. That certainly was not the first time I’ve been asked that question, and I feel comfortable predicting that it won’t be the last.

It’s the elephant in the room that the media, the curious observers, and the university administration itself won’t stop talking about. We’ve all observed the multitude of ways in which President Schlissel is attempting to curb what he’s concerned is a campus-wide “work-hard play-hard” mentality. Recent events would incline one to think that his concern isn’t entirely without warrant. That being said, university administrators run the risk of forgetting that learning how to balance ‘work’ and ‘play’ is perhaps one of the most important lessons that students will learn while at the University of Michigan.

I feel confident that I attend one of the best universities in the world, and the data backs me up. Just this week, actually, US News and World Report ranked U of M among the top 20 universities in the world, and they surely haven’t been the first to do so. Our campus boasts pioneers in business, technology, engineering, liberal arts, and health. We’re lucky enough to be taught by professors who innovate at the forefront of their respective fields, and we have access to an alumni network that spans the globe.

President Schlissel worries that in all the negative hype regarding Michigan’s self-destructive “party culture,” the public will lose sight of these myriad of attributes. But while important, we should keep in mind that all those attributes make up only a part of the university experience. These vibrant academic attributes would be infinitely less impressive if the university did not simultaneously offer an equally vibrant community environment.

I interviewed a friend regarding why she chose to come to Michigan, and her response perfectly encapsulates my point. “I came to Michigan because it’s the best of both worlds,” she continued, “I can get a great degree here and have a great time doing it.” Could the same be said of the University of Chicago? Of Michigan State? In the grand scheme of things, I believe most of us would identify Michigan’s propensity to balance ‘work’ and ‘play’ as one of the things that sets us markedly apart from other academic institutions.

In the wake of the results of the campus sexual climate survey, that oh-so-infamous ski trip, and Michigan’s newfound ranking as a top ten ‘party school’ by Playboy Magazine, it’s clear that a problem exists. It’s unfortunate, however, that in the wake of an upset in the work-play balance, administrators have turned to issuing blanket denunciations of the university’s “party culture.” Absolutely Michigan has a party culture, ditto to an academic culture, a religious culture, an athletic culture, etc. All universities have their own variation of a party culture, and to assume anything otherwise would be naïve.

So perhaps the problem is not the existence of a party culture itself, but rather the form that party culture has taken here within the last couple semesters. Because party culture is not necessarily wrecking ski resorts or dancing on roofs for I’m Schmacked. Rather, party culture boils down to the way in which we choose to have a good time. Students want to work hard and thereby succeed, but we also want to enjoy ourselves. How do we move forward as a community in a manner that lets us have fun and make the most of our college experience, albeit responsibly?

The answer lies in that “work-hard play-hard” dynamic with which President Schlissel seems so preoccupied. It seems only fitting that we learn how to manage the balancing act between work and play while in college. After all, the ability to do so will ultimately determine our professional success, assuming that on the whole we’re attempting to avoid the Wolf of Wall Street lifestyle. All in all, by choosing to conduct ourselves with the same integrity socially that we already do academically, we can truly have the best of both worlds.

So let’s make it happen and move on from ski trip. Please.

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About Samantha Audia

Samantha Audia was editorial-page editor of the Michigan Review.