January 25, 2005

Harvard fun czar points out staggering social situation

The University of Chicago may not be the only place where fun comes to die. Harvard University's recent hiring of what one Harvard paper designated "the Fun Czar" exemplifies another elite university's effort to revive its sagging social life.

The Fun Czar, a.k.a. Zac Corker, is the newest member of Harvard's administration. Only one year out of Harvard College, Corker finds himself back at his alma mater, serving time on the other side of the fence. The school's decision to pursue this unprecedented administrative position was catalyzed by a letter Corker had written to the college in which he thanked them for the exemplary education he had received, but suggested that they focus on the school's depressed social situation. Harvard responded by hiring Corker to do the job himself.

As an undergraduate, Corker served as a member of the student government. He was also recognized for the creation of the illustrious website which seeks to "protect students' right to party" by listing various party loci; displaying pictures from recent gatherings; and enumerating, with scrupulous detail, the particulars of curing a hangover, unhooking a bra, and playing Beirut, among other activities.

Although Corker has crossed over from student to administration, he has not really been forced to tone down his act. Corker makes it clear that it is not his job to start the party. Rather, he helps students fulfill their desires for a better social life. "Social life is in charge of the students," said Corker, "and I certainly wouldn't have wanted my deans planning mine."

Corker encourages students to formalize their social plans by helping the administration devise party themes and scout locations, as well as by providing the necessary funding. Although most of the recent events Corker has taken part in were alcohol-free, it is not one of Corker's regulations. At the Harvard-Yale tailgate the alcohol was flowing, and, despite the dozen or so fans who were hospitalized due to alcohol-related problems, Corker and the other school officials considered the game to be a success.

Corker focuses on helping freshman become more at-ease and deal with the new stresses of Harvard's rigorous environment. "Freshman year can be lonely, and class leaders haven't emerged yet," Corker rationalized. Corker seeks to provide events where freshman can unwind and get to know one another without the stress or burden of planning their own party.

Even so, Corker's job is not all fun and games. Corker is barely a year older than many of the students he officiates and decades younger than the other deans. "I have to walk two sides of the fence," he explained.

Although the University of Chicago may not have its own Fun Czar, there is no doubt that both the University and its students take a great deal of initiative in the joint attempt to mitigate the U of C's stigma of being characterized as "the place where fun comes to die," "the level of hell Dante forgot," and all the other metaphors we are sick of hearing.

Organizations such as COUP (Council On University Programming) and MAB (Major Activities Board), as well as many other RSOs and ORSCA groups, aim to create a more vibrant social atmosphere for University of Chicago students.

COUP-—which plans large-scale events like Blues n' Ribs, Fall Formal, Dance Marathon, Kuvia/Kangeiko, Mardi Gras, and Summer Breeze, along with sponsoring free boat cruises—operates on a large budget provided by the University PCC fund (Programming Coordinating Council), which also includes MAB, UT, Fire Escape, WHPK and Doc. Students also cite the Panhellenic community and University sports as school organizations that contribute to a more a vibrant social atmosphere. The University also has a council called Student Life, an administrative group which aims to respond to the social needs of the student body.

Despite its numerous student groups and school councils, it is not clear if the University of Chicago would profit from a figure like Harvard's Zac Corker. Most students seem to believe that the social scene at the University of Chicago is what you make of it.

Erin Sweeney, a third-year in the College and chair of COUP, feels that it would not be necessary for the school to create a fun czar. "People can say whatever they want about the school, but it still comes down to the fact that the University has an amazing assortment of social activities and outlets for its students," Sweeney said. "If one still finds themselves bored or lacking social opportunity, then there is the entire city of Chicago waiting to be enjoyed."

Another student, Erica Cerulo, a fourth-year in the College and writer of the Maroon column "Get a Life," hypothesized that the presence of such a czar might actually be a great success: "I believe the new position at Harvard will be effective, especially because the czar is so close in age to the students," Cerulo said. "Most students don't want to be the ones in charge of planning and getting people organized. The fun czar gives students an outlet for these ideas. It puts the ideas into the hands of someone with the time and know-how to make them happen."