In a May 30 editorial, the Deseret News castigated universities for allowing college to become synonymous with "excess," and it identified Utah State University's new alcohol policy as a good first step toward joining a nationwide trend toward more discipline.
We at Utah State University appreciate recognition of our strict alcohol policy. However, we pride ourselves as trendsetters more than trend joiners. We are not jumping on some national bandwagon. We have been driving that wagon for years now.For example, Utah State University's residence facilities have always been substance free, and fraternity and sorority housing has been substance free for more than five years. In addition, USU has never permitted overnight guests of the opposite gender in a student's campus residence.
A 1990 national survey of college presidents identified "alcohol use and abuse" as the No. 1 problem on college campuses. Although tragic deaths on campus due to alcohol poisoning receive a lot of publicity, in actuality, the number of college-age students who are drinking alcohol is declining.
The number of first-time, full-time freshmen at Utah State University who said they drank beer the year before coming to college declined by 2.1 percent from fall 1997 to fall 1998. To the credit of our student values and upbringing, only 7.9 percent of USU's freshmen said they drank beer the previous year compared to 52.3 percent of freshmen attending public universities. This is not a picture of excess and not a recent phenomenon at Utah State University.
Although raucous behavior and alcohol abuse make newspaper headlines, more college students than ever before are doing volunteer work and attending religious services. USU student volunteers stand out like a light on the hill.
Their efforts were nationally recognized in March when USU's Val R. Christensen Service Center was named the nation's Daily Point of Light.
In addition, USU is the first public institution in the state to require students to notify their parents of any violations of alcohol and drug policies or laws. This was done to allow students, their parents and the university an opportunity to partner in a deliberate and meaningful intervention process.
Other universities that have implemented a parental notification rule report that the recidivism rate declined sharply when parents were notified.
In addition, many students seek to attend universities that are holding students accountable for underage alcohol use and alcohol abuse because they know that the living environment will be conducive to learning.
Although the majority of students who drink alcohol in college already started drinking before they arrived on campuses, recent tragedies indicate that parents may not be as knowledgeable about the habits and interests of their student as they should be or would like to be.
Utah State University does not advocate a return to "in loco parentis" (in place of the parents). We are not equipped nor staffed to serve as parents or guardians. In general, we cannot change the values of a student whose parents have had 18 years to influence those values. Still, we do not minimize our opportunity to have an impact on students' lives. We believe that our work with students has value, meaning and purpose.
USU has long been a place where "college" is synonymous with "responsibility" and "accountability." Our Student Code of Conduct, in existence now for several decades, clearly delineates what we expect of our students as well as students' rights and privileges as members of our community. Our code speaks of a disciplined community, "a place where individuals accept their obligations to the group and where well-defined governance procedures guide behavior for the common good." We echo the words of the late Dr. Ernest Boyer, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, who said that students needed more models of courage rather than rules.
We realize that some students, particularly freshmen, have one foot in adolescence and one foot in adulthood. Our goal is to help our students during their transition from adolescence to adulthood in a supportive and disciplined environment. Utah State University attracts outstanding students who make these efforts worthwhile and successful.
Patricia S. Terrell is the vice president for Student Services at Utah State University.