Tilly: UI's inconsistency with reality

BY ZACH TILLY | AUGUST 31, 2012 6:30 AM

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University of Iowa President Sally Mason told The Daily Iowan Tuesday that she doesn’t “understand the obsessive attention” being paid by some concerned parties to the university’s recently renewed contract with Anheuser-Busch. University professors and students alike have criticized Mason and the administration for the hyper-lucrative deal struck between the Athletics Department and beer-maker Anheuser-Busch earlier this summer.

The deal allows Anheuser-Busch to use the UI brand on promotional items and displays, provided that the materials are approved by the university, kept off campus, and designed to feature the UI logo alongside the rhetorical panacea: “Responsibility Matters.” The deal’s opponents claim that it undermines the university’s attempts to curb students’ alcohol abuse.

Mason, however, insists that the contract with Anheuser-Busch dovetails nicely with university’s existing alcohol policy.    “The requirement that the possible use of the Tigerhawk logo be accompanied by the phrase ‘Responsibility Matters” is consistent with our alcohol harm reduction initiative,” Mason said in a June statement. “The university will continue to emphasize that students and fans should consume alcohol only in a legal, safe, and responsible manner.”

The university’s current alcohol-harm-reduction policy is designed to promote safer use of alcohol and to curb the problems of “high-risk drinking” and alcohol abuse among students. A 2010 document issued by the Office of the Vice President for Student Services (now Student Life) titled “Alcohol Harm Reduction Plan 2010-2013” found that “students at the University of Iowa drink more heavily leading to more negative consequences than other college students nationally.”

The spring 2012 National College Health Assessment found that the rate of high-risk drinking at the UI had fallen to 64.1 percent from 70.3 percent in 2009, but it remained far above the national average of 34.1 percent. Upon pondering that high rate of alcohol use and the increasingly  widespread belief that the terms “University of Iowa” and “Bacchanalian orgy” can be used interchangeably, one may begin to wonder how that procedurally “consistent” contract with Anheuser-Busch could help either problem.

Imagine the absurdity of a university with a serious obesity problem that pledges to promote healthier lifestyles on campus by jumping into bed with, say, Burger King.  Even if every Whopper advertisement in the country were plastered with the words “Eat a Salad,” the relationship would still be inherently problematic because Burger King’s behavior is motivated not by a vested interest in collective health but by the existential corporate necessity to sell more fast food.

So, too, is Anheuser-Busch’s behavior ultimately driven by the need to sell more beer. Let’s stop pretending that the university’s deal with Anheuser-Busch is a partnership between benevolent institutions that want to encourage responsible alcohol use among the student body and recognize that the contract is, in Mason’s own words, “a business decision.”

The university wants to make some money, Anheuser-Busch wants to sell some beer, and everybody wants to look good doing it. To ascribe to either party a nobler set of goals would be, to put it mildly, inconsistent with reality.

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