| Actor Sandra Bullock (centre) being kissed by Harvard students. She was named Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year in an annual Harvard ritual where fun reigns supreme. (Reuters)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 14: Harvard University students: overachieving, bookish bores or repressed party animals' A little of both, it seems.
Following complaints that it does little to promote campus social life, the Ivy League school has hired its first 'fun czar' ' Zac Corker, a recent Harvard graduate whose job is to build community spirit and help stressed-out students unwind.
Corker knows a few things about kicking back. As an undergraduate, he helped organise numerous social events and put together a website ' www.hahvahdparties.com ' aimed at protecting students' 'right to party'.
Described as 'a creative schemer', Corker has gone from student to administrator in a few months. In exchange for room, board and a modest stipend, he now serves as the go-to guy for students who have ideas about social events but don't have the time or knowledge to navigate the school bureaucracy and bring them to fruition.
Corker's tenure will be shortlived: The 23-year-old has another job lined up later this year. Harvard plans to replace him, and Corker suggests it hire another recent graduate like himself.
'It's really important for the person who gets this job to know the kids who come up with the ideas, know what groups they're part of and have a relationship with them,' he said.
The idea of a fun bureaucracy ' the official Harvard newspaper dubbed Corker the 'fun czar' ' may seem like an oxymoron, but apparently at Harvard it is badly needed.
Harvard is a school where students tend to maximise every waking hour and have little time for the kind of unstructured amusement that passes for fun in most other places.
'It's not that we have trouble unwinding. Part of it is our extracurricular culture; people are so committed to everything that's going on on campus,' said Matt Mahan, outgoing president of the undergraduate student council.
'Harvard kids have planners that are booked solid from when they wake up to (when they) go to sleep, and that creates the perception that social life is somewhat lacking.'
Judith Kidd, associate dean at Harvard, said academics alone aren't to blame for the perceived fun deficit.
'Yes, the kids work very, very hard here. And they worked very, very hard before they got here in order to get here,' she said.
So how hard do they work'
'The day begins with work' and ends with work. With nothing in between. The average day begins at 7 and could wind up at 3 next morning,' said a Calcuttan in Harvard.
Does it mean they don't have any fun at all'
Shiraz Minwalla, assistant professor of Physics at Harvard, wouldn't agree. 'On Friday and Saturday nights, there are hundreds of parties as you see drunk students on the streets all over the place and hear the music from the halls.'
He agrees, though, that Harvard students are far more serious than their counterparts in big state colleges like Penn State University or University of California in Santa Barbara.
It's not as if a 'system' for organising fun doesn't exist. Harvard has a practice where PhD students and faculty members are given charge of facilitating social interaction among students. Minwalla has been doing it for a couple of years.
Then there are a few who know how to have a good time. Perhaps too good a time.
At a party to celebrate the annual Harvard-Yale football game in November, some two dozen fans were taken to hospital and treated for alcohol-related health problems in what one student newspaper called a 'Bacchanalia'.
Boston police Captain William Evans said he saw students swigging hard liquor, playing drinking games, urinating in public ' in short, all the 'animal house' behaviour commonly associated with lesser-calibre schools.
Fun at Harvard at times isn't funny.