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Alcohol panel grinds along

BY MARLEEN LINARES | OCTOBER 08, 2009 7:20 AM

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After seven months, the Partnership for Alcohol Safety Committee is still in the discussion phase.

And officials said that likely won’t change soon.

“We don’t want to go too fast with this issue,” said Victoria Sharp, the UI special assistant to the provost on alcohol safety.

The committee, created in March, is a partnership among the city, university, and police. The committee has more than 60 members, and the size makes it difficult to move quickly, officials said.

“We may not be moving as fast as some may want, but we’re not going to see results over night,” said UI Provost Wallace Loh, the committee’s co-head. “This is a diverse and large group that is working on a variety of issues.”

The group presented its findings at the UI Faculty Council meeting Tuesday. Faculty Council member Jeff Cox questioned the group’s accomplishments, noting alcohol issues are still affecting the classroom.

“These kids are [coming to class] hung-over,” he said at the meeting. “This is not a public-health issue, it’s an academic issue.”

UI senior Jeff Shipley said he was one of only two young people on the committee when it last met.

“I think the committee should have more insight from the younger generation,” said Shipley, who is also a member of the Developing Permanent Alternative Activities for Students Downtown and On Campus subcommittee, Sharp said the group does not have specific goals or a timeline but instead wants open discussion on how to deal with these issues.

“We’re trying to move forward and try different things,” Sharp said. “We can talk to other campuses and see what works for them, but we also have to take into account our unique features.” But the partnership has some accomplishments to note, stemming from both university and city efforts.

At the UI, the committee established an alcohol skills-training program required for greek chapters and an online health-risk assessment for sophomores, which provides immediate feedback regarding a students’ risk for future alcoholism. The program also offers incentives for high-risk students to participate in interventions.

At the city level, the partnership backed the City Council’s move to base liquor-license renewals on PAULA-per-police-visit ratios and establish a new zoning ordinance that could limit the number of bars in Iowa City.

At a Partnership for Alcohol Safety Summit in March, the committee discussed ideas to provide alternatives to drinking, such as having downtown bars host alcohol-free nights and building a movie theater or a bowling alley. However, neither have been implemented.

“These were just ideas we threw out there,” Sharp said. “We are trying to go through the ideas and prioritize them.”

Loh said the committee is working on implementing new alcohol education in junior highs and providing bystander training, which teaches college students how to react if they witness an alcohol-related fight.

“These problems didn’t start yesterday,” Sharp said. “This is a multifaceted issue, and the different committees are doing different things all the time.”

Sharp said the panel members are taking their time and trying to learn from the past. She also said the partnership has to take the UI’s “unique features” — its centralized in a downtown area with a lot of bars — into account.

“We’re not just throwing money in the wind,” she told the Faculty Council.


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