UI's Mason calls personal alcohol stance "very consistent"


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University of Iowa President Sally Mason said she believes her stance on alcohol consumption at the UI has been “very consistent,” despite recent criticism that she and other UI officials are sending mixed messages.

Mason told The Daily Iowan in an interview Monday that she has been firm with her message that she is not against alcohol consumption as a whole but rather that students who consume alcohol should do so safely and legally.

“We’re not prohibitionists,” she said. “I joke with my husband that I probably drink three beers a year, but I am not against drinking. I am not against alcohol consumption. I am against alcohol abuse. I am against doing things that are dangerous and, frankly, not safe. And I am against doing things that are not legal. And I’ve been very consistent with that message.”

The contract between Anheuser-Busch and Learfield Communications Inc. — the sports-marketing company representing the Hawkeye Athletics Department — allows Anheuser-Busch to use the Tigerhawk logo in advertising, along with a message about drinking responsibly. Learfield will pay the Athletics Department $114 million through 2026. The contract will provide $43,000 for the UI’s alcohol-harm-reduction plan in its first year.

Many city and UI officials say the contract is inconsistent. Some students, such as UI senior Jesse Marks, acknowledge that it’s a complicated situation.

“[The administration’s] stated position at least is ‘We believe in legal, responsible drinking,’ ” he said. “And so, you can have a contract with [Anheuser-Busch] and encourage and promote that sort of thing. By the same token, [UI officials] say they’re all for responsible and legal drinking but the severity and intensity with which they try to discourage it through various punishments and other things — it’s very mushy, and nobody wins, I guess.”

Marks said neither those in opposition or support of the contract can declare themselves completely right.

“I think that on both sides of that issue there are a lot of assumptions, generalizations, mistruths, and overblown intense rhetoric,” he said. “The whole thing is just a big mess.”

Mason said the UI’s contract with Anheuser-Busch does not clash with the university’s message to promote legal drinking while making smart choices.

“On the issue of alcohol abuse, binge drinking … we’ve been working on [it] for a number of years, and certainly we’ve taken a pretty firm stand the last couple of years on this. Along [that] vein, people always ask me, ‘Are we making progress?’ ” she said. “All the statistics say we are making progress.”

Despite that progress, The Princeton Review ranked the UI the No. 2 party school early last week. UI officials, including spokesman Tom Moore, quickly responded, calling the ranking “an unscientific, invalid survey.”

But on Monday, Mason said the ranking has a silver lining.

“It’s a mixed bag of news,” she said. “No one I think enjoys seeing their school on a party-school list, but by the same token, once you read through what the Princeton Review has written, it’s hard to deny that these are some of the very same things that we pride ourselves on — making a large Big Ten school feel very at ease and at home for students and creating an environment where students feel like they are getting a great education for a great price.”

Kelly Bender, campus-community harm reduction initiative coordinator for the UI, said people need to work on “changing the norm” when it comes to the perception of the UI as a party school.

“It’s not the university’s job only, it’s not law enforcement,” she said. “It’s the media, community members. In some ways, students get the message if they don’t get drunk often enough, they get the message that they’re missing out on something. That’s not a healthy message.”

While the party-school atmosphere is a natural part of college life, Mason said, people should look beyond that and pay attention to the positive things students are saying about the UI.

“The party-school atmosphere — I dare you to show me a college campus that doesn’t have aspects of partying that go along with being in college. I think that for good, for bad, for better, for worse — it’s part of the college experience,” she said. “That our students are coming here, and they’re seeing not only the party aspect but [also] a really good environment for education and a really good environment for achieving goals beyond college.”

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