What isn’t debatable is that UPJ exists for one reason: To provide students with a quality education in a safe environment. That includes not permitting anyone under age 21 to drink – not because it’s a university policy; but because it’s a law of the commonwealth.
“What some folks don’t realize is UPJ was a front-runner in taking a stand and developing a policy on alcohol on campus,” said Kevin Grady, director of public safety, which means, among other duties, he heads the campus police department. He has been employed by UPJ for 28 years.
“It is our job to enforce the commonwealth’s laws first and then the university’s laws. For us, it’s easy. It’s illegal for anyone under 21 to possess, consume or transport alcoholic beverages and we’ll cite those who do.”
What also makes his job easy, Grady said, is that “parents want compliance with the laws.” He said it was a “myth” that there existed on campus an unspoken rule that allowed students under age 21 to party with alcoholic beverages as long as there was no trouble.
“We issue a lot of citations during a year,” he noted. “We have never encouraged underage drinking and we’re not a sanctuary for underage drinkers.”
The latest changes in UPJ’s longtime policy (some estimate 15 years old), officials said, were prompted by a noticeable increase in the number of students being transported to hospitals because of over use of alcohol.
Jerry Samples, UPJ’s academic and student affairs vice president, said, “In the last couple of years, we’ve had some very, very close calls.”
We share the concerns of UPJ officials and fully support their efforts to tackle student drinking before it becomes an even more serious problem. UPJ has been a proud and relatively trouble-free member of our community.
Enrolling in a college or university does not give minors a license to drink. Nor does their attendance at a fraternity or sorority party. Nor does threats that if they can’t drink on campus, they’ll get in cars and travel off campus to drink, thus increasing their chances of being in traffic accidents.
Those are some of the arguments that students used last week in a rather heated session on campus.
But we’re not naive enough to think that students won’t drink. Parties that include alcohol have long been a part of college life. Some universities have even gained reputations nationally as “party schools,” a fact that has attracted students.
And UPJ students are not alone in their complaints against a policy change.
In an e-mail to The Tribune-Democrat, a longtime instructor said he’s “always opposed the Mickey Mouse alcohol rules as they piled up from what was once a very liberal personal and social environment.”
He added that “I’ve seen no evidence that all these rules have caused any decrease in drinking or drunkenness, and certainly no evidence that they have improved academic performance.
“In fact, the latest policy augmentation was supposedly motivated by an increase in heavy drinking – after all these years of regulating students’ consumption of alcohol! The rules may actually make things worse, for example by giving students an incentive to switch from beer to more concealable grain alcohol and other spirits.”
But Grady said he felt the entire issue has been overblown, saying its play on the front page of this newspaper was “surprising.”
“It’s been a misunderstanding,” he said of the policy changes. “All we’re doing is asking for more accountability and responsibility from officers of campus organizations, and more accountability from those legal to drink (a figure estimated at about 37 percent of UPJ students). We added three changes (to the policy) – none of them major.”
We urge UPJ officials to seek even more student input in future changes in alcohol and other policies. They certainly deserve to have a major role in any discussions concerning their lives on campus.
Meanwhile, Grady promised that his department would be “doing nothing differently” in controlling alcohol on campus. “We’re absolutely not changing what we have done in the past.”
Considering UPJ’s history in dealing with student issues and in avoiding major campus problems, that would seem to be a good game plan.