UMD keeps closer eye on student drinking | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

A semester has passed since UMD began what it calls its new “alcohol protocols” — a series of actions that UMD will take in response to student drinking offenses.

By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune

via UMD keeps closer eye on student drinking | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

Last year, a University of Minnesota Duluth student received five police citations in six weeks for underage drinking. On his fifth citation he was sent to a detox center, prompting police to call his parents.

UMD learned about it when his father called Vince Repesh, the school’s parent contact, and asked: “Why isn’t UMD helping?” Repesh said.

So UMD is trying.

A semester has passed since UMD began what it calls its new “alcohol protocols” — a series of actions that UMD will take in response to student drinking offenses. The most controversial part involves sanctions against students who live off-campus, many who believe they should be out of UMD’s reach.

After three months, fewer than 30 students have received sanctions, and students generally don’t appear to be aware of the new policy. Reaction is mixed among students who are informed.

Student Jake Matter, 19, lives off campus. He said he understands UMD’s reasoning for off-campus monitoring.

“If you get four minors, maybe you shouldn’t be in college,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to get caught four times. But I also feel like police are already handling it. One punishment is enough.”

Since September, the Duluth Police Department has sent UMD its reports of citations. UMD matches the names against its database and takes action if its students are among those cited for DUI offenses, underage alcohol consumption and for hosting parties where minors are drinking.

Students with first offenses get an e-mail from UMD, noting the incident. On their second offense, students must meet with members of the new Alcohol Advisory Board.

Repesh, also an adviser at the school, is one of two employees who meet with the student to discuss what happened. They bring that conversation to the Alcohol Advisory Board, which makes recommendations. The board includes a student.

“This wasn’t set up to go out and find kids with tickets,” Repesh said. “This is strictly for health and safety.”

Some students don’t see it that way. Dan Dougherty, 21, said UMD is treating off-campus students “like children.”

“Students should not have to be liable to the school they are attending for their actions that take place off of campus property,” Dougherty said.

After a second alcohol violation by an underage student, the university sends a letter to the student’s parents.

But even students who are 21 or older can be summoned before the board if they host a party for underage drinkers or receive a DUI citation.

Second-violation sanctions can include an online alcohol education program, chemical dependency screening, probation, suspension or expulsion, depending on the severity of the violation. Third violation sanctions can include outpatient treatment, and a fourth violation can lead to suspension or expulsion.

“The subcommittee tries to get the student to talk about patterns of using alcohol or maybe other drugs in high school,” said Jackie Millslagle, interim vice chancellor for academic support and student life. “We’re only halfway into their first semester in a lot of cases.”

*ampant misconceptions

Many of the students interviewed for this story had never heard of UMD’s new policy.

Students are still being educated, and misconceptions are rampant within the student body, said chemical health instructor Lauretta Perry, who studied other schools’ policies to help form UMD’s.

“They think they would be expelled for a certain number of violations, not taking into account proximity and severity of those,” she said. “Our protocol is a case-by-case basis.”

Perry has spoken to 40 classes so far this semester, correcting what students have heard. UMD has sent e-mails to all students explaining what’s new.

UMD officials say it’s too soon to know what effect the new policy is having on student drinking habits on and off campus, but 22 students — 14 on campus, four off and four a combination of the two — have met with members of the advisory board through Dec. 4. Police reports for off-campus activity arrive about a month after incidents happen, so semester data won’t be complete until next month.

On campus, the new policy doesn’t appear to have had an effect yet on the number of underage drinking tickets. Through November, UMD police wrote 205 citations. For the same period in 2008, they wrote 203, according to Lt. Anne Peterson, director of UMD police.

Off campus in Duluth police Districts 27 and 28 near UMD, underage consumption tickets in September and October this year totaled 283, with some tickets perhaps not yet filed in the system. Last year for the same districts, violation and time frame, Duluth police issued 231 tickets.

Party complaints to police in those districts — which are not exclusive to UMD students — have actually gone down this year. In 2008, 234 calls were made from Sept. 1 to Dec. 9, and this year, 168 were made for the same time period. But last year’s number was three times higher than in 2007, said Duluth police officer Bill Eickhoff, who worked in that area until recently.

UMD student Morgan Losure said he thinks students are still going to parties and drinking, but they’re being more careful about it.

“People aren’t being so open,” said the 19-year-old, who lives on campus. “I don’t think this will prevent anything.”

The advisory board and what it does will be evaluated this spring, with UMD making needed adjustments, Millslagle said, but its effect on student behavior probably won’t be realized for a couple of years.

Most of the students who’ve met with Repesh and others understand UMD’s intentions, Repesh said. Some students have returned to him on their own time to talk.

“It’d be very easy for UMD … to say, ‘You’ve had three tickets, goodbye,’” he said. “UMD is setting a precedent by saying, ‘We want to know why kids are [drinking] so much, and if we can help them, let’s help them.’”

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