VIRGINIA, CHARLOTTESVILLE — 'Plastic cups everywhere, tapped-out kegs rotting in front yards, masses of weary students staggering home." Such was the lamentation offered by the owner of a local construction business I spoke to last week.
Although his descriptive portrayal of night life at the University of Virginia may sound bleak, he's not alone in decrying the collegiate drinking culture.
A series of highly publicized alcohol-related deaths, both at UVa. and elsewhere, sparked an uproar among parents, educators, and fraternity alumni - all calling on students to clean up their acts.
At UVa., the dean of students moved fraternity rush to students' second semester, and the university's president mounted an alcohol task force after a student here died from excessive drinking last fall.
I'm glad the administration acted so quickly. During three years at UVa., I've seen the "drinking culture" infiltrate nearly every social activity I've been involved in, wreak havoc with the university's intellectual climate, and nearly ruin the life of a close friend of mine.
But the current move to find alternatives to student drinking has fallen short and will continue to fail if the university's faculty members remain passive critics in the rehabilitation of student life.
UVa. adheres to the principle of student self-governance. But students obviously are abusing this privilege (there have been 18 alcohol-related deaths among students here in the past 10 years). And at a point when, according to a survey conducted last year by the Higher Education Research Institute, more college freshmen than ever before are disengaged from their studies, faculty have a serious intellectual void to fill.
There are a number of ways in which those who lecture and advise can make the difference. First, professors here hold students to a low standard. I often hear sarcastic comments from my professors like: "Sometime before your raging kegger tonight, I hope you can find the time to do the reading."
Granted, many of those professors are witnesses to student debauchery - living amid the party scene's noise and rubbish. Also granted, our unofficial mascot is the Wahoo (a tropical fish known to drink twice its body weight). But if anything, professors' cynical comments do more to further this stereotype than to help students realize a healthier self-image.
Many professors also seem reluctant to interact with students. Last spring, the Inter-Fraternity Council at UVa. invited more than 200 faculty members to their annual awards banquet. Only three attended the event. And while many have the opportunity to actively engage freshmen in the university's intellectual environment, few professors seem dedicated to academic advising and mentoring.
When freshmen go to college, they want to find a community of common interests. But when the faculty doesn't show interest in an individual's academic aspirations, there are few places to turn to but this culture that accepts all with open arms and flowing kegs.The University of Virginia is often cited as the top- rated public university in the country. But if you take a closer look, you witness many students caught in a rut of alcohol abuse and a faculty that does not always seem engaged in solving the problem.
Task forces are not very effective; they primarily chase away bad publicity. Colleges like UVa. need to fill the void in students' lives and help them take advantage of the breadth of activity college offers. As the leaders of every institution's intellectual community, the faculty has the responsibility of doing more, both here and elsewhere, to help students do just that.
* Noel Paul is a senior majoring in history at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville .