THE SEMESTER'S student projects, in which groups of three or four students dream up a product or service to promote, are again loaded with alcohol. Out of a dozen projects, three are night clubs with multiple bars, one a new beer, one a ''drunk bus'' that shuttles students to and from area nightspots and one a hangover remedy. That's half the total number of projects selected.
The students who choose alcohol-related projects do so, they say, because drinking is the one thing all members of their group have in common: They all frequent bars, and a weekend binge is a staple of today's student life.
Many emphasize that their new clubs will offer a variety of entertainment -- one has bars on five floors, and one thoughtfully provides a coffee house open after closing time at 2 a.m. where patrons can sober up before leaving. The popular ''drunk bus'' -- of which four have been proposed in recent years -- is justified as cutting down on drunk driving and hopefully endorsed by MADD and SADD, but in practice it would serve primarily to get students delivered back to campus when unable to navigate themselves.
Last year one group's presentation included a video on a new low-priced generic beer, which showed inebriated students reeling and roaring in wanton abandon. It relieves tensions, they said, enables them to unwind after a stressful week of work and study. It also makes them less inhibited with each other, breaking the ice and relaxing sexual taboos.
Research is a part of each project, and the research students included in those alcohol-related ones was sobering. On average, most students (68 percent) go out drinking one or two nights each week and spend about $20 a night. After paying a door fee of $5 or so, that leaves $15 to spend on drinks, which is quite a skinful.
One survey showed that many who go out drinking are too hung over next morning to attend class, and miss on average one or two classes each week. That explains why a hangover remedy was chosen by one group. Their solution was not to moderate their drinking, but to offer an instant cure that banished its after-effects.
Apart from the baleful effects of drunk driving and its legal penalties, students who drink so much so often must be at risk for alcoholism. They must be damaging organs and brain cells and jeopardizing their grades. They may be losing control of their lives, waking up with strange partners or missing purses and risking rape and robbery. The majority of these students are young women, not predatory males; these lambs are going willingly to the slaughter.
Liberated and vulnerable
Throughout history, college students have sought out the bar and the bottle to lighten their lives, and student drinking songs go back centuries. But in times past there were no cars, and the horse always knew the way home. Students were all males, and the worst a night of revelry could do was end up in the lockup or the stews. What distinguishes today's bingeing students is that so many are young women, liberated and vulnerable.
Today's students would consider my own student days tame and boring. When I finally went to college after years of private study I was already in my late 20s, married and employed. Pubs and bars had no attraction for me, and I was just too busy for booze. So the modern ''party school'' is another world to me. However, I learned to fly and instruct, visited theaters and art galleries, and took in an occasional concert.
Most of these students have no cultural life. While universities do a tolerable job of imparting knowledge and preparing them for the world of work, they take little responsibility for introducing them to the world of art and culture, which is to say, civilization. It would seem to make so much more sense for young people to share thoughts at a play or concert than to stagger down the path to oblivion.
In any event, I'm really tired of these alcoholic projects. I can't wait for a group to start a ballet company rather than a bar, but I'm not holding my breath.
John Brain teaches at Towson State University.