High Times ranks New College as a pot-friendly campus. Defenders say the list is just blowing smoke.
Article published Sep 1, 2005
By Steve Echeverria Jr.
“By far the smallest school to make our list, New College allows students to create their own classes. Make up your own course in psychedelia. …
The campus … covered in towering palms and lush banyan trees, enjoys beautiful, tropical sunsets nightly.”
— High Times, October 2005
Dude, New College of Florida ranks No. 7 on High Times magazine’s list of the nation’s most pot-friendly schools in the magazine’s October 2005 issue.
The news comes as a bummer to some students and administrators who say the marijuana magazine’s ranking and the accompanying infamy reinforces the stereotype of New College students as spaced-out hippies walking around barefoot.
It also clouds the school’s academic accomplishments, they say.
High Times editor Steve Bloom said the magazine looked favorably on New College’s top-quality academic programs, vibrant student life and easy availability of on-campus herb.
“The schools appearing on the list are not as strict as other places … students aren’t worried that they will be constantly shaken down,” Bloom said in a telephone interview.
“They can get away with smoking a joint on campus without worrying about someone snitching them out to campus officials or sending in campus authorities or the police,” he added.
And that’s the image that administrators want to stub out.
New College President Gordon E. Michalson Jr. said he hadn’t heard about the High Times article.
“The ranking, frankly, leaves me feeling a little queasy,” he said.
“I realize we have a reputation for a certain kind of student life … but anybody who spends a few minutes on campus appreciates the lively engagement of our student body,” he said.
New College received high marks this year from more-legitimate academic lists produced by U.S. News & World Report, the Princeton Review and the 2006 Fiske Guide to Colleges.
But how can you ignore that New College has appeared every year on the list since High Times editors started the ranking in 2002? And it has dropped from No. 2 that first year to No. 7 this year. (They were maybe one toke under the line.)
The community should be proud that New College is cool with those who appreciate ganja, said Bloom. But the school’s ranking is still a bit of a question mark to him.
“How we know all that about New College, I’m not 100 percent sure,” he said.
Short-term memory loss, perhaps?
Bloom said editor David Bienenstock spoke with students from across the country to compile the list, which includes campuses near such counterculture landmarks as California’s Humboldt State, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
New College wasn’t the only Florida school on the list. The University of Florida ranked higher (No. 3) on the Top 10 cannabis colleges.
The Sunshine State’s affinity to the green leaf was a factor in having two Florida schools on the list, Bloom said. Along with being home to Miami’s Bob Marley Festival, there are more student chapters in Florida of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws than in any other state. New College has a NORML chapter, according to the organization’s Web site. Members did not respond to e-mails.
“Florida has a great marijuana-activist spirit on campus,” Bloom said.
School administrators, students and some in the community know that image all too well and find it to be a drag.
“It’s not a very accurate depiction of New College from an academic standpoint,” university provost Charlene Callahan said. “It’s not like our students are working hard to be stoners.”
Despite New College’s bumper crop of praise in a number of higher-education publications, the High Times ranking clouds those achievements, said Callahan, who began teaching at the school in 1975.
“New College isn’t known as a ‘party school’ and doesn’t attract students looking to party,” she said, pointing to the fact that many of the school’s students go on to get their master’s and doctorate degrees.
But she acknowledges it’s hard to put a lid on the school’s “hippie” image.
“I suppose when you look at New College, I’m sure that what you see is not the typical student; they are a throwback to the 1970s,” she said. “It’s about perception.”
Founded in 1960, New College enrolled more than 700 students this year. According to the school’s Web site, 84 percent of enrolled freshmen who took the SAT scored above 1200.
Administrators weren’t the only ones thinking the pot placement was a downer.
“They’ve got people who smoke [marijuana] at every college, but it’s not good for your school to be remembered as a pot school,” said Marco Graham, a 19-year-old first-year New College student.
Not everyone affiliated with New College is tripping. The rankings also have sparked excitement and amusement from other alumni and students.
Everyone should chill, said Rick Doblin, who graduated from New College in 1987 and who received master’s and doctoral degrees in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2001.
“I can see where the administration is sensitive,” he said. “The people who attend New College are high achievers who find value in looking at the world from different perspectives.”
Doblin is the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a Sarasota-based nonprofit group supporting psychedelic and medical marijuana research.
Fourth-year student Sam Davidson, 21, was more blunt.
“There’s an image out there that we’re drugged-out hippies, and we’re not,” he said. “While people do smoke here, they do the same thing at other schools … we just don’t lie to ourselves.”
So go stuff that in your pipe.
Four years ago, when New College made No. 2 on the High Times ranking, several students posted the High Times article in the cafeteria and other buildings, Davidson said.
“It really got around,” he said.
Not so much this year. Still, there are folks who don’t want students’ heads in the clouds and are critical of the school’s chronic reputation.
Davidson said he hopes the High Times rankings don’t plant seeds of discontent from local law enforcement, administrators and the community.
“I don’t want people reading this list and cracking down, because the [rankings] are meaningless and the schools [in the survey] are interchangeable,” he said.
The list isn’t meant to bring the heat but the pride, Bloom said.
“It’s controversial because schools like to keep their privacy,” he said. “We don’t want to blow covers or make a campus hot for students going there.”
A big reason New College freshman Jessica Burgan said she attends the school is because of the tolerant atmosphere.
“The cops are more forgiving and more flexible than at other schools,” said Burgan, 18.
One person was arrested on felony marijuana charges in February 2003, New College police said. It has been the only drug arrest since New College debuted on the High Times list.
Interim campus police chief Wesley Walker has worked at the college for 15 years and said New College is no different from other schools when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Just smaller.
“The school has the reputation of being somewhat bohemian, but if a crime is committed on campus, we are going to take action,” he said.
School officials put a lot of weight in drug and alcohol awareness programs, Michalson said.
“We don’t have a draconian law-enforcement environment; we don’t go pounding down doors,” he said.
“It’s one where we make students aware of the choices they make, and we emphasize that anything illegal leads to student arrest,” Michalson said.
But all this talk about image and perception l
eads to an important question: Why did New College slide in the rankings?
“I think part of that drop is due to the school’s administration,” alumnus Doblin said. “Perhaps in other places, there’s a little more sympathy for students’ choices, and because New College is the honors college of the state of Florida, there’s a greater sensitivity to public morals.”
Still, the rankings left some students amused.
Transfer student Brian Rottingen said he “grew up with a joint in my mouth,” and that he partakes occasionally.
The third-year student was bemused while reading the article in the student cafeteria, then offered a simple assessment: New College shatters the myth of the absent-minded, unmotivated stoner.
“You really have to be on top of your academic game if you are smoking fatties until the break of dawn and making it into Ivy League schools,” he said.
The Sarasota-Herald Tribune published Cannabis College, an article about New College of Florida’s ranking in High Times Magazine’s list of the nation’s top cannabis colleges. The article quotes Rick Doblin, who received his undergraduate degree from New College.