"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.
"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.
The community should be proud that New College is cool with those who appreciate ganja, Bloom said. 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.
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.
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."
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.
The rankings also have sparked excitement and amusement from her alumni and students.
Third-year student Brian Rottingen 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.
Steve Echeverria Jr. writes for the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota.