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UI’s new alcohol plan well intentioned, but a bit naive

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 09, 2010 7:10 AM

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At first glance, the University of Iowa’s new Alcohol Harm Reduction Plan seemed absurd. We were especially concerned with the preliminary suggestion that prospective students divulge past problems with alcohol. Fortunately, officials decided to strike this misguided admissions policy from the plan.

“The more we thought about it, the more we thought it wasn’t a good idea,” UI Vice President for Student Services Tom Rocklin told the Editorial Board.

Though we generally support alcohol education and measures to curb underage drinking, the Editorial Board still regards the revised plan as unfeasible. The goals — including cutting binge drinking rates by 15 percent — are lofty and unattainable, and some of its specific components are disconcerting. We don’t question the alcohol committee’s good intentions; but the contours of the plan suggest it was written by a group of Pollyannas.

While the three-year plan was formally released on Tuesday, Rocklin said it is still evolving and is not inflexible. The committee will meet four times a year, with subcommittees meeting more frequently. Each year, the members will add onto the plan or remove ineffective items.

Alcohol-education programs are an important element of the current plan. However, it’s clear that students often ignore programs such as AlcoholEdu. An increase in similar programs likely won’t win the attention of students.

The plan also suggests distributing surveys to sophomore students in the hopes of identifying those with drinking problems. There are potential problems with this component as well. The committee first assumes that students will actually fill out these surveys. Second, they assume students will complete the surveys in good faith. These assumptions are flawed and naïve.

Aside from the ineffective, there are distressing components of the plan. For example, the proposed increase in enforcement of alcohol-related off-campus infractions would encroach upon students’ rights to private behavior. It would also open the door to future campus policing of off-campus actions. Additionally, such policing may disproportionately affect minorities, who are already often subjected to discriminatory treatment.

In addition to the plan’s faults, it’s also bereft of strong student input. Along with physicians, professors, and public-health officials, the committee requested the help of UI Student Government members during the early stages of the plan. UISG was supposed to be representative of the larger student body.

When questioned about UISG’s help, Rocklin told the Editorial Board, “They are only representative of some of the student body. But it’s hard to invite students who aren’t engaged. I’d be happy to meet with students who have concerns.” The committee should have sought suggestions from students at the plan’s conception, rather than after the fact.

The plan’s intentions are well-meaning, but its measures are impractical or overweening. The educational elements will likely be irrelevant to students, and increased policing is superfluous. It’s clear these measures will do little to combat binge drinking rates.

We suggest the committee go back to the drawing board — and this time, with more student involvement.


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