Dry University and College Campus Please!

During the first week of September thousands of first year students will attend what is called "frosh week" at university and college campuses across this country. It is a week of orientation, socializing, and fun. But it is a week when the consumption of alcoholic beverages reaches its peak on any campus. This brings me to the bigger issue of consumption of alcoholic beverages on university and college campuses.

I do not know of any Canadian university or college campus where the consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited. But there are a growing number of dry American campuses, where alcoholic consumption is not only prohibited on campus, but also at off campus sponsored events. And I hope this American trend catches up with us here in Canada.

Professors — and I am one of them — know very well that Friday afternoon classes are often missed because many of their students are crowding the on-campus bars. Alcohol-related accidents, rape, assault, public disturbances, and even death occur on campuses, especially during frosh weeks and at academic year-end, or graduation parties.

I do not understand why student fees and tax payers’ dollars are (mis) used to pay for the consumption of alcohol by faculty, staff and students on campus.

Of course, each university policy will include something like "The university prohibits any activities which promote the illegal and irresponsible use of alcohol." And those guidelines take tens of pages to explain.

But a dry campus and dry university-sponsored events offer a better alternative, including not using hard-earned taxpayer money and student activities’ fees to construct on-campus bars.

It’s our responsibility as adults and academic leaders to prevent the serious health risks and behavioral problems associated with the misuse of alcohol, and to reduce on-campus alcohol related crimes.

One American university campus policy states: "Sale, possession, or consumption of alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine prohibited on campus. Student organization funds may not be used to buy alcohol. Violators are subject to criminal and university disciplinary procedures."

How wise and enlightened this policy is! Why would a university, where the young minds of a nation are learning and doing research, turn into a facilitator of the crime of killing billions of brain cells in these same young minds?

And some American universities make it clear that professors and staff are not exempt from the rules: "Consumption, possession, sale, and distribution of alcohol by students, faculty, and staff prohibited on university property. Violators are subject to a range of disciplinary sanctions."

Why have Canadian universities and colleges failed to adopt a similar policy?

Well, beer companies donate free pizza and other goodies to students to go along with the drinking. They sponsor sports events. The competition is fierce among these beer companies -” if one company can cultivate a young university student for its own brand, they hope to own him or her for life.

University administrators will no doubt point out they have a good policy which says something like: "The university prohibits any activities which promote illegal and irresponsible use of alcohol."

More importantly, they point out such policies have been "designed to create an environment in which the responsible use of alcohol is understood and promoted." But the reality is different.

Alcoholic beverages are widely misused on campuses, and in many cases taxpayer money and student activity fees continue to be used to fatten the pockets of beer company executives.

It is time for Canadian universities — including mine — to ban alcoholic beverages on campus and also at off-campus sponsored events. Perhaps some exceptions can be considered, if we must. One American university has put it: "Use or possession of alcoholic beverages on all university property prohibited, except in the president’s and chancellor’s residence." And this is fine by me.


First appeared in ‘The Globe And Mail’