W&L tops UVA: But Wahoo leaders don't mind

The University of Virginia just tied for number one public university in the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings. However, in the recent Princeton Review's Best 351 Colleges, UVA didn't make the cut in one key category where tiny Washington and Lee came in at number five.

The listing? Top party schools.

"I think it's appropriate we didn't make the list," says Susan Bruce, director of UVA's Center for Alcohol and Substance Education. "Our annual reports shows our numbers on use of alcohol are starting to go down."

That hasn't always been the case. The infamous annual debauchery that was Easters assured the university a high ranking among the national pantheon of party schools. That is, until revelry in Madison Bowl, aka "Mud Bowl," got out of hand in 1976 and was quashed in 1983.

In 1987, when Playboy published its list of top party schools, UVA came in at number 10. By the time Hefner's mag did a second list in 2002, the university was nowhere to be found– the only Virginia school mentioned was JMU, coming in at number 25.

[The Playboy list itself has become legendary. Although the 1987 ranking was the first, rumors circulated as far back as 1955 that Playboy surveyed drinking on campuses and left UVA off the list. Why? Because if wouldn't be fair to rank "professionals." That's all urban legend, according to the debunking website snopes.com.]

It took the 1997 drinking death of 21-year-old Leslie Baltz to galvanize university efforts to combat the binge drinking traditional at Mr. Jefferson's university since the school's earliest days. Baltz died after allegedly partaking the "4th Year fifth,"– a practice in which seniors drink a fifth of liquor before or during the last home football game– and then falling down a flight of stairs in her apartment.

Earlier this year, UVA President John Casteen received the first Presidents Leadership Group award for his role in addressing alcohol abuse, which has become a concern on campuses nationwide.

"National trends show that student drinking has gone down," says Bruce. And instead of despairing over numbers that indicate 20 percent of students drink to excess, "We flip it around to say that 80 percent are responsible."

Still, the university isn't ready to rank on the teetotalers list. Class of '03 member Suzannah Evans' reaction to UVA not making the top party schools' list?

"I'm surprised," she says. "I don't know what kind of criteria they use."

Quarterback Matt Schaub finds no dearth of good parties. Being on the football team no doubt helps, but "there's a good social scene," he says. [See Hot Seat interview with Schaub, page 20.–editor]

"I'm relieved we weren't included," says Cavalier Daily columnist Kimberly Liu. She concedes that at one point, being known as a party school was a draw for students. But now, "We can't afford to be on Princeton Review's top party school list unless we're higher up on their top academic school list."

UVA did make the grade in other, more sober categories of this year's Princeton Review, coming in at number 15 under "best academic bang for your buck" and at 15 again for "great college library."

Meanwhile, Washington and Lee burnished its boozing reputation by taking sixth place for "lots of hard liquor," third place for "lots of beer" and second place for "major fraternity and sorority scene."

The Lexington university is number one in the category, "students most nostalgic for Ronald Reagan."

Last year, Virginia Tech ranked number 19 on the top party school scale. But Bruce doesn't put too much stock in party school lists. "If you talk to students at the big parties, you're going to think it's a party school."

As for W&L's party superlative, she says, "I wish them the best of luck in getting off the list."

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