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College Administrators Combat Student Drinking


February 1998

Following several alcohol-related deaths on college campuses in the fall of 1997, university and college administrators are experimenting with new ways to combat binge drinking by students (J.J. Thompson, "Plugging the Kegs," U.S. News and World Report, January 26, 1998).

A Harvard University study concluded that about 44% of U.S. undergraduates are binge drinking, defined as having at least five drinks in one sitting within the last two weeks for men, and at least four drinks in one sitting in the last two weeks for women.

A U.S. News and World Report survey of over 1,000 four-year college and university presidents found that the academic leaders are largely unaware of the pervasiveness of binge drinking on their campuses. Only three percent of respondents correctly guessed the high rate of alcohol consumption found by the Harvard study.

The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, directed by William De Jong, published a report emphasizing the administrators' role in alcohol abuse prevention. It encouraged college officials to be "vocal, visible, and visionary" in addressing drinking as a harm to the educational process.

The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education ordered all Massachusetts state and community colleges to ban alcohol in the dorms. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has strengthened its alcohol policy sanctions following the death of an M.I.T. freshman who drank too much at a fraternity sponsored event (Reuters, "M.I.T. Adds Alcohol Penalties," New York Times, February 6, 1998, p. A14; Jack Sullivan, "3 State Schools Still Allow Minors to Drink in Dorms," Boston Herald, January 14, 1998, p. 17).

The American Medical Association is sponsoring a five year effort to reduce drinking on college campuses. The program is being tested at the University of Vermont, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Colorado Lehigh University, the University of Delaware, and the University of Iowa (Shirley Perlman, "Searching for Solutions," Newsday, December 1, 1997, p. A23; Mary Beth Marklein, "Officials Told To Focus on campus Drinking," USA Today, December 12, 1997, p. 13D).

Universities nationwide are trying to sever the connection between alcohol and sports events on their campuses. Elise Lenox, the Stanford University director of alcohol abuse prevention, said that unified efforts should be made to end "the link that has been established through the years between sports -- collegiate and professional -- and beer." The University of Minnesota shortened an advertising contract with the Minnesota Brewing Company to install signs in its sports arenas. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baylor University, and Brigham Young University do not allow alcohol companies to advertise in campus sports arenas or on radio broadcasts of games (Jim Naughton, "Colleges Eye Restrictions on Promotions By Brewing Companies," Chronicle of Higher Education, January 9, 1998, p. A57).

University administrators have called upon social leaders, such as fraternity members, to help reduce binge drinking. However, college officials learned that they had erred in soliciting help from fraternity leaders. According to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, published at Rutgers University, fraternity leaders have the highest rate of heavy drinking. Nearly 74% of fraternity leaders reported having engaged in binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks at one sitting, in the past two weeks. In comparison, 58% of male students only somewhat involved in their fraternity reported a binge drinking episode in the past two weeks, and only 42% of male students not involved in a fraternity reported such an episode (Editorial, "The Drunk Leading the Drunk," New York Times, December 20, 1997, p. A12; Karen Arenson, "Fraternity Leaders Appear To Be the First in Line for Alcohol," New York Times, December 15, 1997, p. A20; Karen W. Anderson, "Frat Leaders Are Heaviest Drinkers," Orange County Register, December 15, 1997, p. A16).

William DeJong, Education Development Center, Inc. for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 55 Chapel St., Newton MA, 02158-1060, Tel: (800) 676-1730, Fax: (617) 928-1537

James Carlin, Chair of Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, 1 Ashburton Pl., Room 1401, Boston, MA 02108, Tel: (617) 727-7785, Fax: (617) 727-6397.