Faces of the UI: City council liaison helps search for that elusive responsible drinking

BY TESSA McLEAN | APRIL 10, 2009 7:30 AM

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As UI senior Tyler Gunn leaned back comfortably in a black leather armchair in the Iowa City City Council chambers Thursday, he admitted that, yes, he does drink.

But the difference between him and many UI students is that he drinks responsibly, he said.
Gunn serves as the lone student member of the UI Alcohol Steering Committee, which works to reduce student binge drinking.

“I consider this drinking problem kind of like a river,” he said. “You can’t just throw a dam in the middle one day and not expect anything to happen; you kind of just have to shift it around different locations. I think this committee can do a good job of doing that without a reactionary response that you would see from the council or university administrators.”

UI Provost Wallace Loh and Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey offered him the position. He said his experience as Iowa City City Council liaison — a student position created to facilitate communication between the UI and Iowa City — made him a desirable candidate for the job.

So far, Gunn has attended the steering committee’s first and only meeting in March and the Partnership for Alcohol Safety Summit on March 27. He plans to attend the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for the first week of May.

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Officials are looking for more students to serve on the committee in two- or three-year commitments, he said.

Gunn said his father, who worked on the Iowa City Historical Preservation Commission, sparked his interest in city government.

The liaison position, created in 2005, is elected by the UI Student Government and approved by the council. The liaison attends work sessions and regular and special formal City Council meetings, but he or she does not vote. As liaison, Gunn is responsible for communicating city and university issues with the UISG Senate.

City Councilor Mike O’Donnell said he supported adding a student liaison to the council.

“He fits right in,” O’Donnell said. “He is very intelligent, is always well-prepared, and adds a great deal to the issues being discussed.”

While interested in politics, Gunn is majoring in chemical engineering. He believes scientists are underrepresented politically.

“If you look at the Founding Fathers of the United States, most of them were men of science,” the Iowa City native said. “Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, they were scientists, and that pretty much sculpted the way America was structured and currently is today. And if you look at the House and the Senate, there aren’t many scientists.”

Gunn will graduate in May and begin a doctoral program at Columbia University in New York in the fall with an emphasis in genetic engineering.

When not working on school work or for the council, Gunn works in the research lab of Aliasger Salem, a UI assistant professor of pharmacy.

Salem said he has enjoyed working with him.

“He has a very strong work ethic and works very hard in the lab,” Salem said. “He has a good personality that gets along with everyone else.”

Gunn said he plans to return to Iowa City after getting a Ph.D., and he wants to become a professor. The Democrat said he hopes to get an internship with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, this summer.

Gunn said growing up in Iowa City motivated him to accept a position on the alcohol committee.

“I believe that over the course of five years or so, there have been dramatic changes downtown, and I think the council is finally realizing that,” he said. “[The councilors] are concerned about safety issues downtown, they are concerned about excessive drinking, and they have always been concerned about underage drinking.”

Gunn said downtown has changed since he was a kid, and he thinks the transformation is partially because stores moved out of downtown when the Coral Ridge Mall opened. Through planning and zoning legislation, the council could limit the number of new bars downtown.

Gunn’s term as City Council liaison ends in May, when a new student will begin the position.

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