September 18, 2012

UMaine's party school reputation surprises many in Orono

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

ORONO -- At 10 o'clock on a Friday night, Josh Gastonguay, Chris Burns and Nicholas Murphy are sitting on the deck of the Bear Brew, a popular bar, drinking Grateful Deads, cocktails made with five types of alcohol.

click image to enlarge

Joseph Miller, a senior ecology and environmental science major from Topsham, left, and Andy Bepuain, a senior business managment major from Bangor, toast with friends at the Bear Brew Pub in Orono.

Portland Press Herald photo by Tim Greenway

The friends, English majors at the University of Maine who are in their early 20s, chat quietly about the Greek tragedy "Oedipus the King." This, they say, is the extent of their partying.

Of course, they say, some students overindulge. On Labor Day weekend, police were called to off-campus housing for two out-of-control parties.

But, Murphy says, "Any stories of debauchery are grossly exaggerated."

This summer, for the first time ever, the Princeton Review put Maine on its annual list of the nation's top party colleges. The dubious honor has sparked a debate among students and university official over whether it's fair or accurate to depict the state's flagship university as a 21st century Animal House.

Is Maine really a party school? The answer depends on who you ask.

"Of course it is," said Morgan Barnes, 21, a senior mass communications major from Cape Elizabeth. "What else is there to do?"

Robert Dana, Maine's dean of students, doesn't quite agree.

"It reminds me that we constantly have to be reminding people of who we are and what we stand for," he said. "That we need to stress moderation and personal responsibility. We're not without issues, but we're certainly not a campus unhinged."

The Princeton Review, a Massachusetts-based test preparation and admissions consulting company, has been doing on-campus surveys and ranking colleges for 20 years. It relies on volunteers who ask students more than 80 questions, ranging from "How many out-of-class hours do you spend studying each day?" to "How do you rate your campus food?"

Those responses are used to create 62 lists, such as Best Campus Food, Most Beautiful Campus and Most LGBT friendly. The Princeton Review uses only what it considers the top colleges in its rankings, about 15 percent of America's 2,500 four-year colleges.

Maine's ranking as No. 19 on the party school surprised many people. Orono police Capt. Josh Ewing said he was shocked to see Maine on any list of top party schools. If anything, he said, the school has gotten tamer in the 13 years he's been on the job.

"This is nothing compared to what we saw a decade ago," he said.

Back to back parties

Before classes started this month, wild parties on back-to-back nights generated buzz among students and created headaches for others.

The parties happened at the Grove, a new student housing complex a half-mile from campus. With 22 buildings, nearly 200 apartments and space for more than 600 students, the complex built by Campus Crest Communities Inc. looks more like an all-inclusive resort than student housing.

It has a giant courtyard with a pool and a lounge area, a shared common building with a game room, computer stations, couches and flat-screen TVs. There are beach volleyball courts, tennis courts, basketball courts and a tanning salon.

On its sign, the O in Grove looks like a martini olive. T-shirts advertising the Grove bear the slogan "Get a room."

On Sept. 1, and again on Sept. 2, gatherings of hundreds of students spilled into the Grove's outdoor common area. Police described the scene as chaotic, with loud music, lots of excessive drinking and rowdy behavior.

Students took pictures and videos of the scene and posted them on social media websites. One video showed a young man skateboarding off a roof.

Megan Collopy, 21, an anthropology major from Dexter who lives off campus with a roommate, got a text message about a party at the Grove from a friend who lives there and couldn't sleep. Collopy didn't go.

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