This issue of the Vermont Quarterly frankly and directly examines the issue of alcohol abuse - a serious problem at UVM and at colleges and universities across the country. Alcohol abuse in general and binge drinking in particular is connected with a broad array of other problems including poor academic performance, vandalism, depression, acts of violence, sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, injury and even, in unfortunate and extreme cases, death. Anytime we have a problem that affects the health, safety and academic strength of our students, it is a critical concern.
As you will read in the article by UVM facluty member, Tim Brooks,
and Vermont Quartery editor Kenneth Schexnayder, there is evidence
that students arrive on UVMs campus with established drinking
patterns, higher than the national norm. What the numbers also
show is that nearly all UVM students, whether or not they drink,
are negatively affected by binge drinking. So are our faculty
and staff who must deal with the consequences of this behavior
when students arrive in class unprepared because they have been
partying excessively, or worse yet, dont show up at all. Our
neighbors in Burlington are affected when students fail to act
appropriately in the community due to the influence of alcohol.
Our alumni also are affected when they are asked about the party
school image of their alma mater. As UVMs president, I am affected
when I am expected to control the behavior of students whose habits
were formed long before they arrived here.
Interestingly, UVM emerges statistically similar to a selective
private university with regard to student partying. But attendant
party school rumors, whether accurate or not, tarnish our reputation
as a high-quality national university. The data show that student
alcohol abuse is a serious concern for universities everywhere.
It is important to keep this perspective in mind as we grapple
with the problem at UVM. Part of it is reflective of our culture,
which perpetuates the image of college drinking, and part is
reflective of the age group developmentally. College, and increasingly
high school, has become known as the time to test out newfound
freedoms, indulge curiosities, and take risks. What is clear in
all of this is that student partying is not unique to UVM.
This is neither a time for denial or defensiveness about this
subject. We should be proud that UVM, unlike many campuses, has
acknowledged the problem. We are being honest, pragmatic, and
are taking concrete steps to solve these complex issues. In the
short run, this approach will cause discomfort. But UVM students
will benefit greatly as a result of our efforts.
Underlying all of our efforts is a critical foundation: a strong
and comprehensive reaffirmation of the academic priorities of
UVM. Consistent and strong practices and messages from all of
us demanding excellence in teaching, research, and learning will
serve as the underpinning for other policy changes and co-curricular
programming to reduce binge drinking. This approach, combined
with increasingly high expectations for responsible student behavior,
is already achieving positive results.
But if there is one thing I have learned it is this: alcohol abuse
is an entrenched and complex problem that does not lend itself
to simple solutions. The problem of alcohol abuse is more serious
than we think and has more profound consequences than we realize.
Traditional responses to problem drinking have not worked, and
the problem is growing bigger. Society is contributing to the
problem by allowing an atmosphere of tolerance about excessive
drinking. If we are to have an impact, our expectations and societal
norms about drinking and anti-social behavior will have to change
dramatically. At UVM, we are taking this challenge very seriously.
In sum, the UVM community is doing the right thing by acknowledging
and owning a problem and then working together to solve it. The
abuse of alcohol and other drugs is endemic on campuses nationwide,
as well as in our larger society. In the spring of 1997, the Higher
Education Center for Alcohol and other Drug Prevention formed
the Presidents Leadership Group to develop policy recommendations
to address underage and dangerous drinking. Their report, which
has recently been issued, was built around three key ideas: 1)
Be vocal; 2) Be visible; and, 3) Be visionary. These are concepts
that must not be limited to college campuses. It is incumbent
upon each of us to recognize the roles we can play in our families,
our organizations, and our communities in confronting this very
As someone who cares deeply about UVM, I hope you will read Professor Brookess article, and send along any ideas or feedback you may have. We need your help, your understanding, and your support.