By Samuel Posega
Coming soon to Indiana University of Pennsylvania: the March 2015 edition of IUPatty’s, an annual off-campus revel that last year gave the university a big black eye.
Late last summer, Pittsburgh news media drew additional attention to the evident behavioral problems by focusing on discount-coupon books distributed free to IUP students. WTAE-TV reported that Robert Muir, an Indiana lawyer, advertised in the coupon book by offering 10 percent discounts on alcohol- or drug-related offenses, plus arrest-record expungement.
Given IUP’s reputation as a school for party-inclined students, these coupons naturally raised a tumult, with some claiming that the coupons promote partying.
Another Indiana lawyer who advertised in the coupon book recently speculated that Muir may have worded the coupons to reach students ignorant of legal terminology. The lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, also blamed much of the media controversy on “poor word choices.” And the anonymous attorney suggested that the coupon semantics simply may be a way to drum up legal business.
While IUP may have a problem with its reputation, lawyers trying to drum up business by catering to the marketplace is the least of the university’s concerns.
For example, also appearing in the offending coupon books is a trilogy of coupons for Big Ed’s Outlet in Blairsville. Big Ed’s advertises vaporizers, candles, hookahs, posters, tapestries, “glass accessories” and lock boxes.
If you’re scratching your head at those last two, here’s a translation: “Glass accessories” in the context of a place like Big Ed’s is a dog-whistle term that refers to bongs and/or weed pipes, better known as bowls or pieces to Phish fans.
Big Ed’s also offers a coupon for “large select glass” for $20 or two for $30.
Put another way, there’s a drug-paraphernalia coupon in this semester’s Campus Special discount-coupon book.
Meanwhile, in 2013, IUP ranked 31st nationally in on-campus drug arrests per capita, up from 37th in 2012, with 5.8 per 1,000 students, according to Project Know, a website focused on addiction.
Also in 2013, IUP ranked 20th nationally in on-campus alcohol arrests per capita, down from 6th in 2012. In 2013, IUP reported 13.6 arrests per 1,000 students, according to Project Know.
The anonymous local lawyer said it was shallow and uninformed to conclude that attorney Robert Muir’s coupons promote partying, adding that a coupon for a crematorium doesn’t promote dying.
In fact, the anonymous local lawyer said, not one person came in with his coupon from the fall 2014 booklet. So, it’s entirely possible that nobody is using these coupons, having ignored them because they weren’t for food.
Attorney Muir and, possibly by extension, Big Ed’s are just trying to make a half-decent living, pay their bills and put food on the table. As any entrepreneur will tell you, the goal is to find a market void and fill it.
As IUPatty’s 2015 approaches, don’t blame the merchants. Blame the marketplace they cater to.
Samuel Posega is a journalism student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.