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Bad-Rapped for Apathy on Campus, a N.y. College Strikes Back by Endorsing a Giant Game of Musical Chairs

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It was all to prove that smarty-pants Lisa Birnbach wrong. In Lisa Birnbach’s College Book, the eponymous author had weighed the students at the State University of New York at Albany and found them guilty of “apathy.” Apathy, my pom pom! “We felt she was insulting,” says Patty Salkin, director of student planning, “and we were annoyed.” The question was what to do about it.

After deep reflection—of at least several minutes—Salkin et al hit upon the proper retort. The students at SUNYA (there are 15,000 in all) responded to Birnbach with a spectacle of lunatic grandeur that might have tickled both Cecil B. DeMille and Mr. Rogers. In a mass display of boola-boola, more than 5,000 students bid for fame and a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records by playing the largest game of musical chairs in human history. Lest there be any doubt that this was a total university gesture, the afternoon’s activity was initiated by SUNYA President Vincent O’Leary, who downed the first soda in a monster “Pepsi Wave”—an event usually witnessed at the ballpark and lubricated with beer.

Meanwhile, Miss Smarty-pants, the scribe whose crack provoked this epic demonstration of collegiate euphoria, had to read about it in the newspaper. “I’d like to know why they didn’t invite me,” she says.

Would she have gone? she is asked.

“That’s beside the point,” she answers smiling.

The truth is, Birnbach is enjoying the mild to-do caused by her tart handbook to extracurricular life at 186 of the nation’s foremost seats of higher learning. In the “List of Lists” section of her book, she went out on a risky limb to opine that the country’s ugliest male students were to be found at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The men there promptly organized an Ugly Man’s Contest and recently invited their detractor to visit and select the prime specimen in the reverse beauty competition they were holding. Birnbach visited, judged, but declined to kiss the winner. “He was hideous,” she says, “and proud of it.”