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  April 7, 2003

Task Force Suggests Ways To
Reduce Alcohol Abuse On Campus

The President's Task Force on Substance Abuse submitted to President Philip E. Austin last week more than 50 recommendations designed to reduce alcohol consumption on the UConn campus.

The recommendations "will provide for a healthier and safer environment for all and this will lead to a stronger institution that can better meet its educational and social mission," the task force report says.

Included in the recommendations are suggestions for actions by the University administration, faculty, staff, students, and parents, and for efforts that can be undertaken in partnership with the community.

The task force, headed by John DeWolf, professor of engineering, was named by Austin late last fall to present practical, workable recommendations to deal with substance abuse at the University.

"The problems at the University are not substantially different from those at most other higher education institutions," DeWolf said. "There are many efforts already underway at UConn to deal with substance abuse, but there is more to do. The ultimate solution to the problem requires that responsibility be shared among students and their parents, faculty, administrators, and the Mansfield community."

DeWolf noted that many positive things are happening on campus already, including efforts to educate students about alcohol, programs to help them cope with substance abuse problems, and enforcement of underage drinking laws. Supplementing those efforts can, over time, be successful, he said.

The 24-member task force included students, faculty, staff, police, a faculty member from the Health Center whose research focuses on substance abuse, the UConn Parents Association, and representatives of E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield and the Town of Mansfield. The group solicited valuable input and suggestions from a number of outside experts including James Fleming, commissioner of consumer protection, the Connecticut department with jurisdiction over the sale of alcohol in Connecticut, and Diane Harnad, director of prevention services in the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. In addition, extensive research was done to collect information about successful programs in use at other colleges around the country. Special meetings were held with various student groups.

"This is a thoughtful, well-targeted report," said President Philip E. Austin. "I accept the Task Force's basic findings and I will review the specific recommendations with great care over the next several weeks.

"My goal in appointing this task force was to develop a clear set of practical responses to a problem that exists at UConn and at institutions around the country," he added. "This report fulfills that charge. It gives us a valuable road map, as we expand our efforts to protect the safety of our students and the quality of campus life."

The recommendations offer both short- and long-term approaches to the issues of substance abuse.

Although the Task Force found no simple solutions to the problems related to substance abuse, many of the recommendations - including increased enforcement, better coordination with town authorities, provision of alternative activities, and a marketing campaign - have been effective at other schools and will be used here, the report says.

"The problems associated with substance abuse are pervasive on college campuses across the nation," the report notes. "The most effective (prevention) programs consist of a campus-community coalition including students, faculty, administrators, and key constituency group representatives, combined with dedicated prevention staff," the report says.

One recommendation not found in the report is the notion of establishing UConn as a dry campus. The task force rejected this idea, saying it could lead to a spate of new problems, including increased incidences of drunk driving.

"Underage drinking, and all its tragic consequences is not the problem of any single school, police department or government agency," said Fleming. "This is a community-wide problem and that's what this task force is all about."

The recommendations of the Task Force include:

  • Continuing to provide and enhancing information on alcohol and other substances in student training sessions as part of the Husky Weeks of Welcome and First Year Experience Courses and other venues to send "a consistent, clear and strong message articulating institutional expectations of students." The report recommends the continuation of, a mandatory training program for freshmen at the Storrs campus.

  • Strengthening the judicial process by notifying parents when a student has committed violations of the alcohol and drug regulations that could lead to denial of University housing or other disciplinary sanctions. The report suggests offenders be required to make restitution for any damage they cause and that faculty and students become more deeply involved in the judicial system. "Restorative justice programs" should be implemented to make offenders aware of the impact of their behavior.

  • Working closely with regulatory and law enforcement agencies. The Office of the Dean of Students will work to establish a system so police can routinely report student substance violations to the office.

  • Enhancing prevention and intervention by increasing staff and space for the Heart Program, which provides intervention, peer education, and educational sessions for students about drugs and alcohol, and more strongly enforcing alcohol laws.

  • Establishing an alcohol prevention specialist position as a senior-level position in Student Affairs, as well as creating an oversight board to coordinate programs already in existence and develop new programs.

  • Enhancing and publicizing non-alcohol related activities for students by building additional recreational facilities. The report also recommends providing diverse programming every weekend, and developing alcohol-free activities, including coffee houses, alcohol-free clubs, and other activities.

  • Supplementing the academic program by expanding First Year Experience courses, increasing the number of Friday classes, and opening the library 24 hours a day.

  • Other strategies include eliminating drink promotions in bars; putting a stop to irresponsible alcohol advertising; and enforcing strict identification requirements at bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. Also suggested are new state regulations to limit bulk purchase of alcohol.

  • Working together with the management of the new football stadium to limit alcohol abuse.