The recent drinking-related death of a freshman at California State University at Fresno should alert college administrators, students, and parents to the seriousness of student alcohol abuse as it occurs in and around campus settings. This unnecessary tragedy should also motivate students to use every precaution available when engaging with alcohol, a popular – and dangerous – hobby.
When I read of these incidents, and there are far too many, I wonder why student alcohol misuse continues to be a problem. It seems that every tragedy sparks a renewed campus interest in curbing alcohol abuse, whether in the form of community vigils to raise awareness, student activism aimed at changing the college culture, or policy reforms that promise safer campus environments. However, just as soon as we take a step forward to make a campus environment safer, popular culture pushes us two steps backward.
College students are targeted with messages that promote drinking as a part of the college experience. Students see images from mega-beer advertising in everything from sports to popular reality TV shows. In this year of the presidential election, drinking beer has even played a role in making President Obama appear more likable to voters. In this environment, I find myself resigned to the belief that notwithstanding the risks, students are going to consume alcohol, sometimes in unhealthy ways, while in college. It is a part of the college experience, just as much as the freshman 15 and the sophomore slump are rites of passage.
Campus administrators have responded to student alcohol misuse with education, policy and advocacy outreach. Campuses have grown their arsenal of websites, policies, pamphlets, posters, videos, training sessions, peer educators, themed housing, community coalitions, online assessments, and other tools to combat the issue and help students make safer choices with alcohol. The research suggests that the use of these various tools does curb alcohol misuse and risky drinking behavior. In my research, I have found that students frequently engage with alcohol in risky ways while attending off-campus parties. The bottom line is simply this: students are better off with the intervention than without it.
But are these interventions sufficient? And conversely, if we add one more program to our strategy, will it make a difference? My research leads me to believe that a focus on off-campus party hosts could make a difference. It is clear that those who organize or host parties are underprepared and ill-educated to do so. I advocate for targeted education of party hosts so that they can work to create and manage parties in safe and responsible ways. I focus on students who host parties, because I believe they are the best individuals to make decisions that can save the lives of others. In the same way that they bring groups of students together for parties, both on- and off-campus, they also stay at campus parties long after administrators have gone home or to sleep.
Focusing on hosts leads to some important policy and programmatic strategies. Policies that encourage hosts to take protective actions when promoting alcohol use are likely to be more effective than banning alcohol from parties. However, most party hosts are not ready for this responsibility. Students are underprepared to create and manage parties in which others can socialize with alcohol in safe environments. For example, when I asked hosts about their preparations for and actions during a party, they said they are unlikely to provide any snacks, heavier food, water, or non-alcoholic beverages. By not making these common protective items available, they are missing an opportunity to reduce the likelihood of intoxication among party guests.
In addition, hosts are unlikely to use basic party management techniques, such as adherence to state alcohol laws; preventing minors from drinking at their party; having a sober team or keeping sober themselves; calling police if the party gets out of control; verifying that the smoke detectors and fire extinguisher work before a party; and contacting neighbors in advance of a party. Party hosts seem unaware that each of these proactive measures could greatly reduce personal liability and risk to students.
Party hosts are a weak link in the chain of strategies to manage the campus environment. There is a need to be more aggressive as we extend alcohol education programs to those who host or plan to host off-campus parties. It is a safe assumption that on-campus and off-campus party hosts behave similarly. In our collective effort to curb student alcohol-related incidents, campus administrators should continue their work along the environmental management approach by intentionally targeting student party hosts. Because this is a challenging group to reach, hosts would benefit from a curriculum that promotes safe party management, practical online resources for event planning, messages from campus and community leaders that reinforce healthy drinking behaviors, and policies that give students the incentive to do the right thing, like good Samaritan and medical amnesty policies.
But is curbing student alcohol misuse the ultimate goal? No, we need to push beyond curbing alcohol misuse to stop senseless and preventable alcohol-related deaths. For this to happen there needs to be a cultural shift in the way in which the campus community values alcohol and alcohol-related activities, especially as they occur on or near college campuses. Common practices that send unintended messages to students include limited late night or weekend student activity programming; few Friday or weekend classes or exams; sporting events that sell alcohol and promote a tradition of pre- and post-game tailgate parties; open bar events for university donors, faculty, and alumni; vague student alcohol policies that are often not applied equally to all student groups; and area restaurants and bars that give significant discounts for happy hour, pitcher, and bottomless cup promotions. Until we seriously address the issue of campus drinking, including a campus dialogue between and among campus members, campus administrators will remain handcuffed to strategies that are additive in nature but that do not adequately address the problem.
Designing and implementing a comprehensive party host curriculum and training is additive – but significant. I urge scholar practitioners to rethink, research, and discuss new and integrative approaches to alcohol education. Students who are new to college campuses, such as the case at Fresno State, deserve a better environment in which to learn and develop. They deserve an environment and a campus administration that strives for more than curbing student alcohol misuse. The goal of an environmental management approach is to influence behavioral changes within campus and community environments; the challenge is to do so with campus-specific interventions, limited resources, and narrowly tailored campus committees responsible for risk management.
Rick C. Jakeman is assistant professor of higher education within the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University.
Close to 1,000 people held a rally at Pennsylvania State University Saturday to call on the institution's Board of Trustees to resign, The Centre Daily Times reported. Attendees were angry that the board fired Joe Paterno as head football coach last year and subsequently largely accepted the analysis of an investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal that, among other things, was critical of Paterno (who died before the inquiry concluded). Franco Harris, a college and professional football star (who played at Penn State under Paterno), referred to the night the board fired the coach this way: "It only took one night, just one night for the BOT to lay a path of destruction never before seen on any college campus."
Cornell University announced Friday that it is severing business ties with Adidas, finding that the company does not live up to what the university considers minimal acceptable standards for treating its workers. Cornell's statement specifically referenced the company's failure to pay severance to workers at a factory that was closed in Indonesia in 2010. If Adidas should change its policies, Cornell would welcome the chance to resume work with the company. Adidas officials did not respond to a request for comment. Cornell's royalties from the company have been modest in recent years, $1,000 to $2,000, according to a spokesman.
Three campuses -- the University of Texas at Austin, North Dakota State University and Hiram College -- received bomb threats Friday that were taken seriously enough to lead to mass evacuations, the Associated Press reported. But in all three cases, the threats appeared to be false and students and employees were permitted to return to the campuses.
The day after the University of Tulsa announced the firing of President Geoffrey Orsak -- after only 74 days in office -- the university issued a vague statement that did not offer any explanation for the action. "Discretion and university policy dictate that I not discuss the specific circumstances surrounding the decision, except to underscore my confidence in the collective wisdom of the University of Tulsa Board of Trustees," said a statement by Duane Wilson, the board chair. The statement called the board's decision "unavoidable," but offered no information on why this was the case.
Eleven current and former women's volleyball team members at the State University of New York at Geneseo have been arrested on charges of hazing and unlawfully dealing with a minor, The Livingston County News reported. According to authorities, eight younger members of the team were handcuffed, blindfolded and forced to drink vodka. One of the eight had to be hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. A statement from the university said that all games and practices have been called off while the investigation continues.
The University of Tulsa on Wednesday night fired Geoffrey Orsak as president, a position he had held for only 74 days, The Tulsa World reported. The day before, the university announced that Orsak was taking a leave to care for his seriously ill father. But the announcement Wednesday did not say why the president was dismissed. In his own statement, Orsak said, "I am very disappointed given the lengthy due diligence process for the position that within such a short period of time the board has decided to go in a different direction." Previously, Orsak had been dean of engineering at Southern Methodist University.
Submitted by Kevin Kiley on September 13, 2012 - 3:00am
Concordia University-St. Paul announced Wednesday that it was dropping its undergraduate tuition and fees by a third for next year, joining a handful of institutions including the University of the South and the University of Charleston to cut their sticker price in the face of increased price sensitivity in the market. The sticker price for tuition and fees, currently set at $29,700, will be $19,700 next fall for all students, including those currently enrolled.
Administrators at Concordia said they were becoming concerned that students their traditional demographic -- middle- and lower-income students in Minnesota -- were ruling out Concordia as an option based on its price, despite the fact that after aid few students actually ended up paying that much. According to federal data, 99 percent of students at Concordia received some form of institutional aid.
Much of the student population at Concordia currently pays less than the new sticker price. The college's discount rate was 48 percent, meaning that students paid just over 50 percent of the sticker price on average. Concordia administrators said some revenue is likely to be lost by lowering the price, but that they hope to offset that by increasing enrollment.
We’ve known for a long time that the federal student privacy law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), is disastrous for public accountability. Now we know that it’s almost certainly unconstitutional as well.
The threat of financial ruin that theoretically accompanies a FERPA violation – theoretically, because in the 38-year history of the statute, no one has ever been penalized for violating it – causes schools and colleges to irrationally withhold information from the public on the grounds of “educational privacy.” Even if the information is neither educational nor private.
Colleges have invoked FERPA to withhold records as benign and non-confidential as lists of athletes on scholarship and tape recordings of Student Senate meetings. And FERPA has become the default excuse to conceal wrongdoing by coaches, boosters or athletic-department tutors.
But the end of FERPA’s stranglehold on public records is in sight.
In National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius (the “Obamacare” ruling), the Supreme Court struck down a federal statute that conditioned federal financial subsidies – in that case, Medicaid funding – on complying with Congressionally mandated conditions.
The Court’s primary opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, traced the history of challenges to Congress’s authority to dictate policy through the Spending Clause in Art. 1, Sec. 8 of the Constitution.
Conditions attached to federal spending have been upheld as constitutional, the chief justice wrote, when they amount to “relatively mild encouragement,” such as the requirement to increase the drinking age to 21 as a condition of receiving federal highway aid.
But in this case, Roberts wrote, the coercive bargain – to greatly expand the rolls of Medicaid-eligible patients or forfeit every dollar of federal Medicaid funding – simply went too far: “[T]he financial ‘inducement’ Congress has chosen is much more than ‘relatively mild encouragement’ — it is a gun to the head.”
Mr. Chief Justice, meet FERPA.
The 1974 federal privacy statute, which requires all schools and colleges receiving federal money to enforce policies safeguarding the confidentiality of students’ “education records,” carries a (theoretical) wallop that is comparably knee-buckling to Obamacare’s: Violators forfeit their eligibility for federal education funding.
The federal government contributes 10.8 percent of the cost of K-12 public education in America. While the percentage of direct support is less at the postsecondary level, ineligibility for federal funding includes life-sustaining Pell Grants, a $35 billion-a-year program.
Because the Department of Education knows that withdrawing federal money would amount to burning the proverbial village to save it, the DOE has never come close to imposing the “fiscal death penalty” on a FERPA violator. In fact, it has enacted regulations to make certain that no school will ever be de-funded simply for honoring a public records request.
If documents are released in violation of FERPA, the DOE issues a “compliance plan.” Only if the department determines that the school will not voluntarily comply can financial penalties be imposed. (The Supreme Court has ruled that families aggrieved by the release of their records cannot sue under FERPA, so DOE sanctions are the only penalty.)
Congress enacted FERPA with good intentions: to keep misleading records of aptitude tests or disciplinary scrapes from coming back to haunt young people. FERPA entitles families to see these records on demand, to challenge their accuracy, and to insert clarifying material. And it makes those same records confidential for everyone but the family.
But FERPA went awry when it became the catch-all excuse for every school or college that finds disclosure inconvenient or embarrassing.
The default assumption under the law of every state and of the federal government is that individuals’ interactions with government agencies are a matter of public record and are subject to disclosure. Thus, when a person applies for a construction permit, receives a traffic ticket or incorporates a business, those transactions are transparent – even if the individuals involved would prefer otherwise – so the public can assess how government agencies are performing.
Public records are what enabled reporters from the Los Angeles Times to document massive waste and mismanagement in the L.A. Community College district’s $5.7 billion construction program. They’re what helped Chicago Tribune reporters document the existence of a backdoor admissions system for the underqualified children of VIPs at the University of Illinois, a scandal that helped topple UI’s president and most of its trustees.
Regrettably, school attorneys have become well-practiced at invoking the federal-funding bogeyman – at times in confoundingly frivolous ways – when faced with a demand for information they’d prefer to keep concealed.
In July, the Iowa Supreme Court denied a newspaper’s request to compel production of public records relating to the University of Iowa’s internal investigation of how rape accusations against two Hawkeye football players were handled.
The victim’s family complained that the university dragged its feet in investigating the attack. An independent law-firm investigation confirmed wrongdoing that led to the firing of two university vice presidents.
The players’ names have been in the national news for years; one pleaded guilty to assault and the other was convicted at trial. Yet the Iowa court put their “privacy” interests – in being felons – ahead of the public’s interest in memos and correspondence that could shed light on how Iowa responded to the victim’s complaints.
Because it’s possible to read FERPA to produce such absurd results – a literal reading of the statute makes “education records” absolutely confidential even if everything in them is already widespread public knowledge as a result of the student’s own criminality – it’s time to sweep the statute into the dustbin and start over.
Based on the Court’s June 28 ruling in NFIB, there are seven likely votes to invalidate FERPA. Dissenting Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito used even stronger language than Roberts and his two co-signers in condemning the Medicaid expansion mandate: “If the anticoercion rule does not apply in this case, then there is no such rule.”
The dissenting justices even helpfully pointed out that, after Medicaid, the second-largest federal aid program is education, accounting for 12.8 percent of all federal assistance to states and 6.6 percent of the average state’s total yearly expenditures.
So, do states have a meaningful opportunity to accept or refuse education funding? Let’s ask America’s colleges and universities.
In 2011, the head table of American higher education weighed in behind the University of Illinois in a dispute with the Chicago Tribune over records of its secretive “clout admissions” program.
A federal district court decided that FERPA was no excuse for withholding the documents the Tribune sought. In a ruling that has since been vacated on appeal, the district judge ruled that FERPA is not an outright prohibition on disclosure, since a college can choose to accept or reject federal funding.
In the university’s successful appeal to the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the American Council on Education and nine other education groups filed a supporting brief arguing that FERPA is, to use Justice Roberts’ words, “a gun to the head” of their member institutions.
They noted that 19.1 percent of the University of Illinois’ operating revenues comes from Pell Grants and other federal sources, the loss of which would be crippling if not fatal.
“As a practical matter, [educational] institutions have no real ‘choice’ in the matter as the federal government is the single largest provider of student loans and other student financial assistance for higher education, which funding serves as a central component in each institution’s budget,” the groups argued. “Given the fact that federal education funding comprises such a significant percentage of a school’s total operating revenue, the District Court’s conclusion that schools can simply discontinue receipt of those funds is not grounded in reality.”
Indeed, in its Supreme Court brief in NFIB, the government expressly cited FERPA as a Spending Clause condition analogous to the challenged Medicaid expansion – a condition that, if the Medicaid expansion fell, would be thrown into question.
FERPA is a “dead statute walking.” It relies on a coercive funding threat indistinguishable from that just declared unconstitutional in NFIB. Having acknowledged as much in the Illinois case, colleges and schools cannot retreat from that position when the inevitable constitutional challenge arises.
To be clear, striking down FERPA will not throw open genuinely private records that everyone agrees should be kept confidential. Grades, minor disciplinary scrapes and other non-newsworthy information still may be kept secret, because open-records statutes exclude information that clearly invades personal privacy.
With FERPA off the books, schools and courts will be free to make common-sense judgments as to when privacy has been waived – for instance, when a nationally known athlete admits committing a crime – and secrecy serves no rational purpose.
This balancing test – weighing, case-by-case, personal privacy against the community’s interest in disclosure – is the right way to protect legitimate confidences while giving the public the information essential to evaluating how its schools are being managed.
Frank D. LoMonte is a lawyer and executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., that supports greater transparency in schools and colleges.