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Archive for Friday, January 1, 1999

BINGES AND BOOZING

January 1, 1999

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A Michigan "contract" system may not be the answer, but something has to be done to lessen the growing impact of drinking by college students.

How serious is the drinking problem among American college students?

Kansas University has had a rash of problems because of alcohol, including deaths and near-deaths. Since 1995, students have died from drinking at Texas University, Louisiana State, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Iowa, Ferris State, Virginia ... the list goes on and on.

Last year, five Virginia college students fell out of windows and down steps to their deaths. At Michigan U., an 18-year-old woman fell from her sixth-floor window and died after drinking at a fraternity party. A Michigan State student died after celebrating his 21st birthday by drinking 24 shots of liquor. His blood-alcohol level was 0.44. Experts say 0.35 easily can be fatal.

In line with such a trend, Michigan college students may be asked to sign contracts designed to control drinking. It is difficult to imagine the program will be successful, but authorities are willing to try anything to change the picture.

State Rep. Alan Sanborn of Michigan plans to introduce a bill that would allow colleges to develop student-responsibility contracts that could include expected conduct, a code of ethics and disciplinary action. Each institution would set its own terms and decide which students would be affected. Some college officials believe a "contract" might make students take rules more seriously. Naturally, there are skeptics.

KU is only part of a national fabric that sees growing problems from drinking, particularly binge-drinking like the incident that killed the Michigan State celebrant.

As for the contract approach, it is highly unlikely it will work. KU and other local agencies are trying to work together on the problem. A good start will be for schools and public agencies to stand behind law enforcement people who check drinking establishments and "card" suspicious drinkers. Dodging this procedure has been legalized far too much.

Drinking has always been a college campus problem, and it shows no signs of weakening without strong measures. While the Michigan contract approach may be impractical, there are other steps that can and should be taken to change things.

Somebody has to step forward and take responsibility for a surprising number of irresponsible kids.

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