Officials look to hire alcohol czar to oversee new plan


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The lengthy list of goals in the University of Iowa's Alcohol Risk Reduction Plan released on Tuesday includes the creation of a new position — someone whose job is to ensure the goals are reached.

Plans for the position are in preliminary stages, but officials know it will carry the title of "coordinator of the Alcohol Reduction Program," and the person would report to Tom Rocklin, the UI vice president for Student Services.

Specifics for the position, such as salary or funding of the plan in general, are still undecided, Rocklin said. He said they have "no one in mind" as of now, and the UI will conduct an open search.

He added they want the person to be "in charge of coordinating all of our campus activities" regarding the alcohol reduction goals.

The three-year plan aimed at lowering students' binge drinking rates by 15 percent — from 70 to 55 — includes four main goals focusing on attracting students with healthier drinking habits, while helping and holding accountable those who with riskier habits.

While the UI has created committees in the past — and even hired an outside consultant for seven months — to deal with alcohol issues, this would be the first administrative position to focus on alcohol.

Rocklin said the idea came from success of such an upper administration position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, hailed as a national model for how a school can help reduce harmful student drinking. The school successfully lowered its binge drinking statistic from 60 to 43 percent in a decade.

Linda Major, an assistant vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Nebraska, serves in a position similar to what UI officials call for.

The main function of the job, she said, is to coordinate and move between the university and the community. Her job description entails bringing people together and continuing to develop strategic responses, but not doing things such as educational presentations.

"We have wellness educators who do that," she said.

Major also oversees the grants that financially support the alcohol initiatives. Designated-driver programs and redesigning web-based educational programs are a few initiatives.

"It takes the pressure off and adds to the existing resources," she said.

An aggressive enforcement stance by deans and other university leaders could be an important part of seeing success through a college alcohol policy and help reduce high-risk drinking rates, according to a Harvard College of Public Health study entitled "Alcohol policy enforcement and changes in student drinking rates in statewide public college system: a follow-up study."

Peter Nathan, an alcohol expert and UI professor emeritus, said it's important the person who is hired works with those who make up the majority of the university community: students.

"They have to work closely with students to be respected by students," he said.

While it is unclear whether the position will be filled from within or outside the university, there are both drawbacks and advantages to either choice.

Bringing in someone from outside the university has its benefit, Nathan said.

"This person would come into the university without preconceived notions [and] without history of the 21 controversy," Nathan said. "He or she might bring strategies and programs from other universities that have been successful."

But, he noted, a new person would also have to be acclimated to the UI.

"It all depends on the individual," he said.

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