Booze battle brews at UMD

By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
The university will alert students to its new guidelines for alcohol violations by e-mail in the fall, a few weeks before classes begin. Coming changes include more oversight of off-campus students.
A traditional rite of independence for college students is the off-campus move, away from closely monitoring parents, resident advisers and campus security.

But next fall, the University of Minnesota Duluth plans to broaden its oversight of student drinking in what some call an infringement of their freedom.

In an attempt to prevent student death and addiction and become a better neighbor, UMD will roll out a new set of guidelines for dealing with alcohol violations. Part of that includes changes to how off-campus students are treated by the university.

In the way of serious alcohol issues, “We’ve had a good pulse on what’s going on on campus, but we haven’t known what’s going on in the community,” said Lauretta Perry, a UMD chemical health educator who helped form the protocol. “The community is telling us loud and clear we need to be looking at this.”

UMD will work with law enforcement weekly to comb through a database of police records from six area counties: St. Louis, Carlton, Lake, Pine, Cook and Koochiching. Records will be searched for citations against UMD students ages 18-24 who live off-campus. The wide age range will allow police to spot charges more serious than underage alcohol consumption, said Lt. Anne Peterson, director of UMD police.

Underage students found with one alcohol offense will receive an e-mail from UMD to show the university is aware of it. A second offense might elicit a phone call to parents, depending on how much time lapses between the first and second.

Repetitive or “serious” behavior will put students before a review board of students, faculty and staff.

“We want to keep the focus on educational and therapeutic, not punitive [discipline]. We’re not looking to be Big Brother,” Perry said. “Multiple violations related to alcohol could indicate a problem, so we’re looking for behavior patterns.”

Recommendations by the review board could include an alcohol risk-reduction class, a chemical dependency assessment or referrals for treatment. This year at UMD, five of 76 students who received chemical dependency assessments were referred for treatment.

UMD has decided to bring parents into the equation because of the close relationships today’s students have with parents.

UMD staff, students and police helped revise the alcohol protocol, seeking input from the Student Association, the governing body of the student population; athletes; fraternities and sororities, and resident advisers.

Tweaks that made the protocol less structured were made several times in response to feedback from students, Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin and University of Minnesota legal counsel.

The new “protocol” approved May 14 has not been announced to students. UMD plans to alert students via e-mail before they return for fall semester.

Nick Miller, a Student Association member familiar with the changes, said he thinks they will be effective but that students should be notified before the end of the summer.

“They tried that last year [2007] with the no-smoking policy, and because no students really knew about it, smoking on campus continued through the entire year,” he said. “It was such a big change that happened too quickly.”

Eric Adams, another student who gave input to UMD, said springing the policy on students right before school begins doesn’t allow them to make arguments, because it already will be in effect.

“I see their concern for monitoring students’ health, but it seems they’ll be laying the groundwork for more punitive action later,” he said.

Perry said the decision was made to wait because students would be more tuned in to their e-mail shortly before fall semester begins, and the pilot program probably will be tweaked after both first and second semesters.

Karen Kilpo of West Kent Road said the move by UMD is important to neighbors.

“It seems they haven’t really done much to protect neighborhoods in the past … so I really appreciate it,” she said. “It seems like a really good step [with] the college and community working together versus being at odds.”

Other universities with similar policies include the University of Kentucky and Texas State University. The University of Colorado at Boulder notifies parents after each offense once a student has been found responsible.

UMD sophomore and Student Association member Tommy Bittner helped circulate a student petition this month — which received about 800 signatures in two days — that protested more-severe rules UMD considered and rejected. While he wants UMD to communicate with students more quickly, he’s pleased with the changes that were approved.

“We’re adults, so there’s a sense of responsibility we need to take on,” he said. “Being held accountable is a good way to do that.”

via Booze battle brews at UMD | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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