Our state university, the University of Massachusetts, a school in Amherst many Berkshire residents graduated from, has tried hard to boost its academic credentials and shake its long-held reputation as a party school. Events like last weekend’s "Blarney Blowout," which led to drunken clashes with police, vandalism and dozens of arrests, thoroughly undermine these noble efforts. In fairness, not all the blame can be put on UMass for an annual mess that appears to be growing worse.
The Blarney Blowout is a pre-St. Patrick’s Day fiasco held before the holiday, when many students are on spring break. It can be experienced in downtown Amherst and reaches full throttle at huge outdoor parties centering around apartment complexes that host UMass students. Students from other colleges join in, and while UMass officials thought they were prepared for this year’s blow-out they acknowledged in Tuesday’s Boston Globe that they were surprised by the ugly nature of the crowds they confronted. At least four police offers sustained minor injuries when police were pelted with full beer cans and bottles and it took the use of pepper spray and other anti-riot weapons to disperse students.
Kumble R. Subbaswamy, the chancellor of the state’s flagship university, accurately stated that these drunken melees "brought shame on our fine university." Students from other colleges who took part shamed their universities. UMass blames downtown bars, and last year’s fights, fires and broken windows were largely in downtown Amherst, but Town Manager John Musante said the weekend’s mayhem -- crowds were in excess of 4,000 -- were at the apartment complexes, adding, "The issues were not at the bars."
Obviously, those charged should be prosecuted fully, and those convicted expelled from UMass or whatever institute of higher learning they attend. No wrist slaps from schools or courts. Landlords who allow this kind of behavior on their property should be prosecuted and bars that advertise the "Blarney Blowout" can’t be allowed to claim innocence when drunks stumble elsewhere.
But at a time when an education is so important -- and so expensive -- is there really room for this kind of activity that risks a police record? There is definitely no excuse. (Drunk and disorderly behavior isn’t "blowing off steam.") And isn’t the "Blarney Blowout" kind of "high school." College isn’t for everyone, which UMass is learning again the hard way.