President Announces Substance Abuse Task Force
By Karen A. Grava
President Philip E. Austin soon will appoint a task force to make recommendations about curbing student use of alcohol and other substances.
Austin announced the formation of the task force in a letter sent to the community last week, and asked the TAFS (Trustees, Administrators, Faculty and Students) committee at its annual meeting last Wednesday to make recommendations about membership of the task force.
Although substance abuse is a problem on nearly every college campus, Austin noted that "if we fail to respond to the problem before us, we will not be serving the young people for whose well-being we have a profound responsibility."
The University has made many efforts to limit drinking, including requiring new students this year to pass an on-line alcohol education course called Alcohol.edu; other educational programs; treatment options through the Student Health Services and the HEART program, which provides peer counseling; and enforcement of housing rules and laws by student affairs staff and the police. Student leaders have been enlisted and have been helpful and supportive in addressing the problem.
Yet students continue to make "appallingly bad choices," Austin said.
A national study which UConn students participated in recently showed that the problem here is very real.
"My general sense is, frankly, that substance abuse at UConn is growing at least as fast as it is across the country," the president said. "Given the rise in our student body's academic strength, this is surprising, but apparently for many young people the relationship between academic intelligence and common sense is not as close as we might hope.
"Every week, I receive reports detailing the impact of overdrinking and, less frequently, drug abuse." he continued. "The major tragedies, of which we have had our share, make headlines and grab our attention. The more common stories, ranging from minor vandalism to simple obnoxious behavior, tend to blend together in people's minds as unpleasant symptoms of adolescent behavior about which little can be done."
Answers to the problem will not come easily, Austin said, and for that reason the University will both continue and expand its efforts to educate students, treat problem drinking and drug use, and enforce the law and the University's rules. New ideas are also needed, he said.
"Despite our drive toward the highest levels of academic quality, UConn holds the dubious distinction of being on national lists of 'party schools'. Spring Weekend may be getting better than in the worst years of the past, but it is a continuing worry for all of us ... The time has come to ask all members of the community to contribute to a collective effort at creative thought."
Austin said the task force must incorporate a wide range of students, including students who are having difficulty with drinking, parents, faculty, and staff, including student affairs staff and police."
He also said he plans to add experts from the Health Center who have experience dealing with problem drinkers.
Sally Reis, professor and head of educational psychology and a member of the TAFS committee, suggested that the University should also work with high school counselors and psychologists around the state, because many of the students arrive in Storrs with a pattern of drinking problems established before they enter the University.
TAFS committee member Phil Barry, a Storrs resident who is also an elected alumni trustee, recommended that the president include a representative of the town on the task force.
Students who have been drinking often cause problems for town residents, Barry said, especially after midnight. Since many of the town's problems result from students in rental housing, there may be town ordinances that can be used to help curb problem drinking, he added.
And Amy Albert, a graduate student on the TAFS committee, suggested that graduate students be represented on the task force, as recent research shows that high levels of stress and isolation - two problems graduate students cope with daily - can lead to excess drinking.
Austin said the task force may use a list of about 50 recommendations made by Vicky Triponey, vice chancellor for student affairs, and her colleagues as a starting point for its discussion.
He said he hopes to appoint the task force within the next few weeks and to have recommendations during the spring semester.