Our University and Alcohol Consumption

Any good university is concerned first and foremost, now and always, with academic excellence.  That is our purpose.

128 university presidents signed onto The Amethyst Initiative, a recent effort suggesting the drinking age should be lowered to 18. The primary argument is that we can teach the students how to drink.  Would the classes be part of the core curriculum?  If a student receives an “A” would the faculty member be complicit if the student injured himself or someone else while driving under the influence?

Here are some facts.

Approximately 85% of college students drink according to the American Medical Association. “According to a Harvard School of Public Health Study, nearly half of all college students who abused alcohol during the 1993 academic year experiences five or more serious problems including missing class, physical injury, arguing with friends and engaging in unprotected sex which could lead to HIV infection.” From “Binge Drinking on America’s College Campuses,” Harvard School of Public Health, Henry Wechsler, Ph.D.

There is a very strong correlation with the number of drinks a college student consumes per week and their academic performance:  in plain language, the more you drink, the lower your GPA.  To me it is profoundly frightening to realize the implications of alcohol consumption on intellectual acuity and academic performance.

While death is the ultimate price some pay for out-of-control college alcohol consumption, the price can also be high day in and day out.  Students that drink miss class, get in fights, engage in illegal activity and are more likely to be involved in date rape.

All of these factors influence academic standing, academic progress and graduation itself.  The culture of drinking continues past college and can also affect life-long achievements.  The country loses top thinkers, creative talent and productive members of society when alcohol becomes a problem.  Ultimately the public pays more to support those who suffer from alcoholism.

Headlines from national newspapers reflect the fear that drinking and binge drinking create for parents. An Associated Press article (Aug. 29, 2001) begins “Just the accounts of how they died should be sobering.”  The report goes on to chronicle case after case of deaths on college campuses related to drinking.  Drinking is also associated with many hazing incidents.

Alcohol problems strike even the best schools like Princeton University, Rutgers, Morehouse College, the University of Iowa, the University of Texas (Austin), the University of Pittsburgh, Frostburg State, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Louisiana State University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and regrettably, Southern, have all had students die as a result of inappropriate alcohol consumption.

I have a friend, a college president, who had a simple quiet policy, which went like this.  “At university events, where students are present, I will not serve alcohol to anyone”.  He never really explained it to me, only said that was his policy.  I was flat footed enough to fully appreciate it.

Modeling professional behavior for students may be the most sincere form of teaching, and allowing students to see that people can enjoy themselves, be smart, humorous, thoughtful, engaging, and at-ease in a clear-headed social setting is a great teachable moment,  consistent with the purpose of the university, and the most socially responsible position to uphold.

At our university modeling professional behavior should be the core curriculum.

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