Friday classes mean fewer Thursday ER visits, study contends

BY MORGAN OLSEN | MARCH 30, 2010 7:30 AM

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For many University of Iowa students, perfecting their class schedule means no Friday classes. But that may soon become harder to avoid.

Over the last several weeks, the UI Faculty Council and Faculty Senate have unanimously voted to support increasing the number of Friday classes, when possible. The draft was approved at the same time the Senate and Council also endorsed Iowa City’s 21-ordinance.

The approved draft stated “evidence suggests that Friday morning classes lead to reduced alcohol consumption on Thursday nights and to reduced alcohol-related emergency-treatment-center admissions on Thursday nights.”

Michael Takacs, a UI clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine, presented his own research about local students’ Thursday night and Friday morning alcohol-related visits to the emergency room. His research was influenced by a study conducted at University of Missouri-Columbia, which analyzed alcohol consumption for every day of the week compared with class schedules.

Results from the Missouri study show that students with no early Friday classes — those before 10:30 a.m. — drank twice as much on Thursdays as students with those classes.

If they’re enrolled in classes after 10:30 a.m., Takacs said, students are just as likely to drink as if they didn’t have any class on Friday.

“It’s great that the faculty formally recognized that Thursday night drinking affects students’ academic success,” Takacs said. “It’s a good effort to reduce binge drinking and even encourage faculty to talk with students about the issue.”

Faculty Senate President David Drake said the group’s support of more Friday classes is in response to faculty’s concern with binge drinking.

Beth Ingram, the UI associate provost for undergraduate education, has suggested moving required, major-specific classes to Tom Rocklin, the interim vice president for Student Services. The Daily Iowan obtained the e-mails using Iowa’s open-records laws.

Ingram commented that the Faculty Senate’s resolution is “harmless,” adding the real work lies in “translating that resolution to action.”

“The way to change the culture is to make sure that upper-level required courses are offered on Friday,” she wrote. “The required part gets away from the student-choice issue … and the upper-level part ensures that someone is tracking attendance.”

UI officials launched an effort to increase Friday classes in 2007, which is portrayed in Takacs’s research results. He said he believes the campaign propelled a drop in the ER numbers.

The number of students enrolled in Friday classes rose, and Thursday night emergency-room visits due to alcohol decreased from 78 during the 2007-2008 school year to 69 last year.

“This isn’t just by chance,” Takacs said about the correlation of increased Friday classes and decreased ER visits. “But I’m not sure if other things affected the numbers, such as [the online alcohol-education course] AlcoholEdu.”

UI marketing lecturer David Collins, who teaches several Friday classes, said he holds his students to the same standards, whether the class is on Monday or Friday.

“If we have higher expectations for our students, they will have higher expectations of themselves,” said Collins, who lectures his students on the importance of showing up for every class.

Officials at the University of Northern Iowa said they’ve seen similar trends in Thursday night binge drinking becoming a problem for students. In an effort to provide another outlet, they created Thursdaze — nonalcoholic programming, such as concerts and movies — to offer activities on Thursday nights.

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