THE STATE officials, legislators, and UMass Amherst alumni who have worked hard in recent years to make the state’s flagship public university a point of pride for Massachusetts should be outraged: The weekend melee that accompanied this year’s pre-Saint Patrick’s Day “Blarney Blowout” was an alcohol-fueled disaster for the university’s image. Already carrying a reputation for over-the-top partying, UMass Amherst now risks becoming the poster university for out-of-control student behavior.
Sadly, this debacle can’t be ascribed to administrative failures, but rather to the students themselves. University officials were aggressive in warning students about an increased police presence in the wake of disturbances at last year’s event, and even posted warning letters to those who had been disciplined in the past year for alcohol-related offenses. Alas, some students seemed to respond to the warnings with defiance. This was, among other things, colossally stupid: Fighting for the right to party may sound like a cool idea, but engaging in criminal behavior can end a student career very quickly.
Indeed, the administration rightly plans to scrutinize the students who were among the 73 people arrested. Drunkenness and rowdiness alone shouldn’t derail someone’s academic career, but any students who committed violent crimes should be expelled. Four police officers were injured in the melee, including three who were pelted with glass bottles, rocks, snowballs, and cans.
Lastly, the university has to end the “Blarney Blowout” tradition right now. Amherst police, whose captain characterized the scene to reporters as “extremely disturbing and unsafe,” can’t be expected to monitor yet another blowout next year, no matter how many safeguards the university might build in. And even the most party-hungry student should give some concern to preserving the university’s reputation, which, in some sense, reflects on them.
The hard work that has gone into creating new academic programs aimed at putting UMass Amherst in the top ranks of public universities, and the effort to boost statewide interest in the school by upgrading its football program, are deeply undermined by this weekend’s events. And state officials, university administrators, police, and any Amherst bars and restaurants that encouraged the event should take firm action to make sure it doesn’t happen again.