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Contemporary Americans, wrote the philosopher Richard Rorty, are "rich fat [and] tired;" they live in an "Alexandrian" culture.

Craig Brandon's new book, The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up On Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It, describes, in bland and angry prose, just the sort of universities Alexandrian cultures get.


America has, along with scads of terrible universities, an impressive number of spectacular ones. Craig Brandon's not interested in the spectacular ones. He rightly notes that the bulk of college-age people in this country end up in the party schools. This makes him angry.

A recovering Keene State University professor, Brandon is angry that so many of our schools just sit there, stewing in 4 Loko, flunkies, and football; he notes that although almost no one learns anything on these campuses, plenty of party school students graduate -- alcoholic, big with debt, and as intellectually null as they were on entry. (Randy Newman fans will recall his line about students at Louisiana State U: "Went in dumb, come out dumb too.") The graduates turn into huge losers with shitty jobs and lifelong repayment burdens.


You've seen the top party school lists. The ten yearly winners - on some of whose campuses you can discover ghettos of scholarly excellence amid the stately athletic homes - sit unsteadily atop a seething, ambitious mass of lower-ranked party schools who resent the better drugs, more criminalized basketball teams, and more cynical faculties of the winners. In the race to the top, lower-ranked schools learn to their sorrow that without a dynamic synergy among politicians, trustees, administrators, and faculty, you're not going to get there. The top-ranked party schools boast decades of debauchees at the helm and are basically untouchable.


Brandon rages, chapter after chapter, at the waste of money, time, and intellect party schools represent; he's scandalized by the sheer danger of attending them: "[I]f you concentrate five thousand to twenty thousand adolescents in an area of a few acres and figure that about 40 percent of them are intoxicated at any one time, date rape [among many other crimes] is perhaps the inevitable result." He talks about death by fraternity, sadistic fraternities, fraternities that kill. He definitely doesn't like fraternities.

I don't want to seem glib. Brandon's book is right about almost everything - about the mercenary motives of these schools, their demoralized professors and wasted students... But it's wrong about one big thing. Brandon thinks that serious numbers of the parents of these students care. Or that they would care if they knew what he's telling them in his book. His book's rather patronizing subtitle evokes a world of wee ones whom pa and ma are trying to protect...


Alexandrian students come from Alexandrian parents.

Or look at it this way: Many University of Georgia students come from University of Georgia parents. Their parents know perfectly well what's going on, because they went to school there. They've been tailgating there since they were knee-high to a New Belgium Fat Tire.

America is still rich enough to afford palming off large numbers of its young people onto party schools for four years. Hell, it's rich enough to risk electing people like Christine O'Donnell to the Senate.

Rich people, as you learned when you read The Great Gatsby (unless you went to a party school and didn't read it), tend to be irresponsible.

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