Saturday, October 26, 2013

Campus Alcohol Policy

Guest Blogger:  James Gallagher

A recent email from a colleague here at Lincoln University brought to the forefront of a problem that has certainly hit virtually all of our classrooms, and this blog serves as a perfect avenue to discuss this issue. The topic for this blog involves the alcohol policies on our campus and the automatic suspensions that are being levied against students for certain incidents, which happen in non-educational settings. A majority of these suspensions are due to violations to the campus alcohol policy. I submit that our current policy in this matter may be too strict, and more detrimental to our students’ lives than any possible perceived positive outcome.

As per the student handbook, “Anyone found in violation of the alcohol-free/dry campus policy is subject to (1) immediate interim suspension, (2) a subsequent judicial hearing, and/or (3) extended suspension, permanent suspension, or expulsion.” So far this semester, I personally have had no less than 4 of my current pupils with infractions to the alcohol policy on campus. Thus, as per policy, these students received immediate suspensions and at best can communicate with their professors and advisors via phone and email. It is unfortunate to report, not a single one of my students who received a suspension is receiving a passing mid terms grade, largely due to having missed 2 weeks or more of class.

These automatic suspensions are particularly tough on our student demographic, who struggle with classes and material even when they are in full attendance, let alone when forced to miss 6-9 classes in a semester after an infraction. After seeing how student life is run after serving on the juridical board, I applaud the efforts made at dealing with this complicated issue. It certainly is a difficult job, one of which I am not envious. The question I would like to pose for the week is whether these automatic suspensions are an appropriate way to deal with the problem of underage drinking on a dry campus, or if there are better approaches to incorporate fair and just punishment, while still allowing our students, to keep up to task with their studies. Furthermore, many of these students are not only subjected to our campus policies on the issue, but these cases also get sent to local authorities for more penal violations. All of this punishment for an alcohol violation seems to be simply piling on problems for our students if they decide to make the wrong choice, and could have major implications for their future. Our policies seem to be stricter than many of our competitors, and whether we like it or not, will cause students to not select The Lincoln University as their university of choice. Other universities, such as our HBCU competitor Cheyney University, have hearings in which the student is only suspended if the violation is considered severe. Further, the suspension is then only levied after there is a hearing on the matter, not prior. This policy will prevent students from partaking in better non-alcohol related activities.

Unfortunately, student life has doubled down on this approach by instituting a new policy has also just recently been put in place in which attendance to an on campus activity could automatically subject you to a breathalyzer test. More than likely than not, this policy will serve to discourage students from pursuing more clean activities, instead encouraging students to participate in more dangerous substance consumption activities like binge drinking in the dormitories.

I also want to make clear; I also do not believe we should just ignore the systemic problem of alcohol on our campus. Alcohol abuse is a problem which affects society as a whole and I agree that we should take a leading role as educators to help solve the problem.  However, zero tolerance policies as we have implemented have been shown to have no effect on the actual deterrent value nor increases in quality of atmosphere (1). Further, studies comparing countries that are more permissive in their alcohol consumption have found decreases in amount of alcohol consumed (2). These type of studies only highlight that we are potentially damaging our students’ lives but gaining nothing in return. Perhaps if we were to provide more avenues for clean student recreation, such as increased access to the gym, pool, and bowling alley, we could have a much greater effect on alcohol consumption by our student populace. Other approaches which have been shown to be successful are to promote educational programs about personal responsibility and social normal behavior (3), a direction that would be a perfect fit for our campus, and might even slide nicely into our FYE curriculum. These approaches, on top of disciplinary hearings, would seem to be a better fit our students in that they would still aid in discourage alcohol consumption while avoiding the zero tolerance policies that include automatic suspensions that will undoubtedly cause our students to not succeed.

1. Skiba, R. J., & Knesting, K. (2001). Zero tolerance, zero evidence: An analysis of school disciplinary practice. In R.J. Skiba & G.G. Noam (Eds.), New directions for youth development (no. 92: Zero tolerance: Can suspension and expulsion keep schools safe?) (pp. 17-43). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass./p>

2. Kuo M, Adlaf EM, Lee H, Gliksman L, Demers A, Wechsler H., Addiction. 2002 Dec;97(12):1583-92. "More Canadian students drink but American students drink more: comparing college alcohol use in two countries."

3. Haines, M. and G. Barker. "The NIU Experiment: A Case Study of the Social Norms Approach," (2003) in The Social Norms Approach To Preventing School And College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook For Educators, Counselors, And Clinicians, Ed. H. Wesley Perkins. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


  1. James, you may be right: there may be a better way to deal with campus (alcohol) drinking than (what is) indicated in The Lincoln University student handbook. The more important question, I think, is how you get that message across to the administration. I do not think we were consulted about that policy. I think it is the process or, specifically, the lack of meaningful shared governance that is the main problem. Because if we had been consulted we could have given our "two cents" which may have made a difference.

    Note how your statement of the issue begs the question or, rather, several questions:

    "The question I would like to pose for the week is whether these automatic suspensions are an appropriate way to deal with the problem of underage drinking on a dry campus, or if there are better approaches to incorporate fair and just punishment, while still allowing our students, to keep up to task with their studies."

    First, I think, "automatic suspensions are an appropriate way to deal with the problem of underage drinking on a dry campus." It can easily be argued that they are; but that does not mean they are the best or even useful or smart.

    Secondly, not all of these students involved in campus drinking are underage. Some are 18 years or older.

    Thirdly, the debate about the value of a dry campus has not been resolved; let alone the wisdom or possibility of having a dry campus. If, for example, it turns out to be virtually impossible to have a dry college campus, given our circumstances and conditions not to mention the causes of college drinking; then all we may be doing is driving it (i.e. college drinking) underground or pretending to achieve our goal.

    Safro Kwame

  2. James, you raise a really important question or, better said, a number of important questions. I know that faculty have read your blog and are talking about the issue, even if the responses aren't being posted here. One of the questions that struck me is what might be done in the FYE classes. I'd be interested to hear from faculty teaching that course about how/if/when they deal with the whole alcohol and drug use issue. What role can faculty play in making the issue a learning experience rather than a punitive one?

  3. I think the main thing that a "dry campus policy" does at a school in Lincoln's geographic position is encourage students to go off campus to drink. Students will drink. Not all, but some or many. Some will binge, and that is a big concern that is best met with education and counseling. But forcing students (many of whom are legally able to drink--almost all seniors and many juniors), adds a deadly element, drinking and driving. Do we want to kill our students to keep them from drinking legally on campus? Personally, I am of the belief that the more you ban something that is widely considered acceptable (drinking in moderation by college students) the more you encourage them to do it. I understand the historical precedent of Lincoln once being a religious-affiliated school, but that was forty years ago. My suggestion: "over 21 floors" in a dorm or dorms for those who wish to drink in moderation, availability of beer/wine on campus to those of legal age in a responsible, social setting (like a "Rathskeller"), and a focus on counseling and treatment, if necessary, rather than punishment, for violation of student code.