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Despite good intentions, UI shouldn’t require alcohol class

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 10, 2009 7:30 AM

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There has been much discourse in lieu of the Daily Iowan’s startling report on increasing binge drinking rates in Iowa City, and UI officials are continuing to explore measures to curb the university’s pervasive binge-drinking culture — including possibly mandating an in-person alcohol-education class for UI freshmen.

In a university landscape already dominated by arguably superfluous class requirements, there is no need for placing an additional burden on students. In addition, the cost of the potential class is enough to disregard the possibility in light of the state’s budget cuts.

The UI already requires that incoming freshmen complete AlcoholEdu. But several UI officials, including UI Provost Wallace Loh, see the need for an obligatory class. This could take the form of an altogether new creation or one embedded in an existing course like The College Transition.

Loh said existing course offerings include a face-to-face workshop to help those with alcohol-abuse problems. At the moment, however, the course exists as punitive instruction for students who receive drinking-related citations. He said data show those who partake in the program have dramatically reduced overconsumption.

“I am committed to making it available at a mandatory basis,” Loh said. “This is a good time to have that conversation.”

Loh’s support for mandatory alcohol education is well-meaning and of substantive reasoning. But we believe improving the current education approach is the correct methodology; UI officials need not expand their grip.

Implementing such a class may demonstrate sincere probity, but the UI should consider its potential price tag as well. Although preliminary, the cost of adding an alcohol-education course as a requirement would unquestionably increase costs. The UI cannot heighten expenses in a period of severe fiscal bedlam. Officials should first focus on alleviating the effects of job cuts and budgetary woes before further installing required courses.

Loh acknowledged difficulty in adding a required course to students’ schedules, noting that it’s probably not feasible for another three semesters.

“There are multiple reasons why it’s always difficult to add another course,” Loh said. “It becomes, ‘How many courses are required in the first year?.’ ”

We encourage administrators to further pursue resolutions to the ever-so-real problem of binge drinking. Indeed, it is their job to do so.

But further course requirements for undergraduates would convolute an already byzantine UI requisite system. And fiscal responsibilities take precedence in a financially insolvent environment.

If anything, delaying a decision allows a better opportunity for UI officials to promote internal and community discourse.

For his part, Loh agrees that we must continue dialogue on the issue.

“This is terribly, terribly important,” he said of students’ health and safety.

We certainly agree on that point.


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