For students at the University of Tennessee, Wednesday's release of the 2003 Princeton Review was a sobering experience - literally.
According to its list of the nation's top 20 party schools, UT has been drop-kicked out of its No. 1-ranked throne into a yawn-worthy No. 16 slot. And in beer and liquor consumption rankings, let's just say that UT is one of the cheapest dates in the country.
Operating under the assumption that this list is founded in truth, that UT students really did evacuate barstools in mass-exodus fashion at some point during the past year, we must confront the origin of this abstemious phenomenon. Why has the prodigal "big orange" keg run dry?
Question: Is UT's newfound sobriety the result of:
(a) The evolution of its collective consciousness? Students now prefer a state of clear-headed enlightenment and self-transcendence to the sloppy drunken stupor they once wallowed in so contentedly.
(b) The exchange of drinking for other recreational activities? To explain this hypothesis, let "x" be a student and "y" be a 40 of Schlitz Malt Liquor. Why would "x" voluntarily couple itself with "y" if "x" + "y" = a nasty hangover, when "x" + "s" (a friendly game of Scrabble) = an increased vocabulary and mental stimulation?
(c) The elevation of beer prices due to the increased sales tax?
(d) A diminished accessibility to bars due to Cumberland Avenue construction?
(e) A sudden tightening of the Bible Belt?
(f) The closing of Mike and Willy's?
(g) None of the above. UT students are partying just as hard as ever; it's just that Princeton's research methodology involved surveying random people outside a Bloomington, Ind. gas station.
What are we to make of it all?
Of course, any real quest for truth requires scratching below the surface. So, in the spirit of dirty fingernails, we must also address possible motivations that may have provoked the allegedly absent activity, i.e. partying.
Question: Why would UT students want to drink in the first place?
(a) Because they are frightened by the small, strange town they live in where masses of overexcited people costumed in matching, pumpkin-colored clothes roam the streets, oblivious to the weird glow of the giant golden spherical structure hovering above them.
(b) Because a bar is a relatively safer environment than its alternative -- an academic setting. Examples: In the long run, imbibing alcohol is far healthier than inhaling chemistry lab fumes. Also, the risk of becoming the victim of vehicular manslaughter while walking to class is a significant one, but getting run over by a car or bus while inside a bar is fairly unlikely.
(c) Because it is an act of rebellion against the oppression of the dry campus compound in which they are prisoners.
(d) Because they are stressed about keeping their grades up and their sanity intact while working three to five jobs to pay for yet another tuition increase.
(e) Because they have nothing better to do when the university occasionally shuts down due to the budget crises.
(f) Because, surrounded by morally shady university presidents and cheating student athletes, they have lost faith in the integrity of the world and are plummeting headfirst into existential disillusionment.
(g) None of the above. Nobody drinks at UT.
In the face of all this hypothesization, we can draw one of two conclusions:
(1) Princeton is right - we're nothing but a bunch of stone-cold sober party poopers, or...
(2) Screw this column. I'm going to get a beer, and I'm putting it on the university's tab.