After hearing of Butler University President Bobby Fong’s intended departure, it was not long before I feared another loss, one much more grave and closer to home.
How will the departure of Fong affect the current alcohol policy?
It is no secret that Fong championed forward-thinking policies concerning alcohol consumption, moving from puritanical restriction to encouraging responsibility through moderation.
While Fong’s replacement has not been named, I hope that whoever he or she may be, he or she will bring some consistency to the currently disorganized and failed alcohol policy.
First, a series of truths must be established, in scientific fashion, that can be agreed upon as givens.
The first is that, despite the designation of ‘wet’ or ‘dry’, there is a portion of students on this campus who want to drink alcohol.
The second is that, despite the designation of ‘wet’ or ‘dry,’ the university wants to curb drinking through policies to reduce danger to the students and to reduce liability on the part of the university.
Now that those facts have been established, let us examine how and why this does not work.
Consider our policy on kegs in fraternities. The university and its lawyers has banned them, labeling them a “common source” of alcohol, making the fraternity house as a whole liable for any resulting actions. This ban is to curb binge drinking, but does it work?
Administrators and lawyers think so, but an economist or college student would not. Pilsner beer from a keg is the cheapest source of alcohol, ranging from 40 cents to $1 per cup, for a drink that is more than 90 percent water.
With this restriction, the next cheapest source of alcohol would be a half-gallon of vodka.
A shot being roughly 44 milliliters, a half-gallon of vodka contains a little over 34 shots, making a half-gallon of Skol or Kamchatka effectively 45 cents a shot.
While this is still cost effective, drinking vodka shots is also more dangerous than drinking beer.
If “Red Cup Culture” taught us anything, it is that a drink is a drink. In this case, how concentrated that drink is, unlike beer, is up to the mixer and server.
There is nothing that makes a keg any more common a source of alcohol than a half-gallon of hard liquor or bottle of wine. The only thing the university’s policies have accomplished is that undergraduates learn to hide it better.
As of the fall 2010 semester, BUPD has stepped up enforcement of the underage drinking policy, increasing their presence during weekend nights.
With the recent record-size freshman class, Chief of Police Ben Hunter worked to increase funding during “Welcome Week” for overtime pay to keep more officers on the streets later at night.
While I applaud the officers’ efforts, and will always respect them for their service to the community, the increased police presence changed the perception of BUPD from what it was just a year ago.
With increased patrolling focused around fraternity and off-campus parties, BUPD had an intimidating presence which undermined its former role as a safe go-to when a night got out of control.
As a resident of a fraternity house, I can say that seeing an officer walk up to the door last year was never intimidating because they were always lenient and willing to speak openly.
This year, however, being approached by an officer has been a terrifying prospect. I do not know if I will speak to a calm officer like before, or one who threatens to write up reports and to stop our friends as they leave our house.
This year, when asked by freshmen what would happen if they were approached by an officer at night, I did not know the answer. I had to admit they did not seem to be the BUPD that was around when I was a freshman. I know that they are doing their jobs, but I cannot help but express that feeling of mistrust to younger friends.
With this in mind, let us consider the role of responsibility in drinking on campus.
In this hypothetical situation, let us follow a college freshman.
If a student decides on Saturday night to drink, he will most likely go out to the campus fraternities. First year students feel most comfortable staying on campus and are unlikely to venture out to house parties or the apartments. When he returns from his night out, he is intoxicated and throws up directly outside his RA’s door.
Who is to blame? If you think everyone, including the student, you are using too much common sense. It does not matter if he lets himself into a fraternity house, how many houses he goes to or how much he drinks at each—if any at all. Every house he mentions is just as liable.
If it is his first offense, the student will most likely write a paper on why underage drinking is bad. Each fraternity will be investigated and possibly even removed from campus.
How does this teach responsibility, in both alcohol usage and in life?
That college students—legal adults—can make the conscious decision to consume alcohol and walk away from it with less severe consequences than other parties involved is counter intuitive to the mission of any institution that promotes growth and responsibility in its students.
Fong is an outspoken member of the Amethyst Initiative, which encourages responsible consumption of alcohol at all levels of college.
What we have at Butler is a policy that treats some of its students with kid gloves and others with an iron fist.
This double standard highlights the need for a more consistent alcohol policy as the university moves forward.
The problem we as a student body face is that these things are becoming commonplace. Those of us who choose to drink consume hard alcohol far more commonly than those of our parents’ generation. These policies drive drinking further underground by the university’s police force and asymmetrical enforcement.
The university should tailor their approach to drinking in a manner that may actually benefit students, not drive drinking underground.
Drinking is not something to be feared, or suppressed or embarrassed about.
It is a rich part of our culture and should be enjoyed, like all other things, in responsible moderation.
So this one’s to you, Butler University, and to the incoming president, I would love to sit down and discuss this over a beer.