Campus cuts drink times

April 25, 1997

Like their counterparts at many other United States universities, administrators at the University of North Carolina have become exasperated over alcohol abuse by students.

A drunken undergraduate fell to her death as she tried to climb to the roof of a university classroom building in 1995; five people died in an alcohol-related fraternity house fire on the campus last year and, so far, 31 students have been treated this year for alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related injuries.

And yet the 15,000-student university is stopping short of calling for an outright ban on beer and spirits. Instead it is eliminating opportunities to drink.

Officials have moved the starting time of morning classes to 8am and scheduled exams on Fridays to discourage weeknight drinking and raucous parties on Thursdays.

"The idea is that if you reduce the opportunity, you'll reduce the drinking," said the university's chancellor, Michael Hooker.

"Nobody is naive enough to believe that we can legislate behaviour," Dr Hooker said. "Everybody realises that a real solution to the drinking problem will come from the students choosing to solve it."

UNC also has banned alcohol advertising on radio broadcasts of university athletic competitions, provided alcohol-free parties and rewarded students who do not drink by giving them the choicest rooms in campus dormitories.

Students were among the members of a task-force that proposed these measures, and student reaction has been unprotesting. About the worst thing the student newspaper could think of to say about the policies was that they did not go far enough.

"Alcohol-free residence halls are only as sober as their residents want to be," said an editorial in The Daily Tar Heel. And it added: "By making the most desirable residence halls alcohol-free, the university will likely have many students paying lip service to sobriety so they can be closer to the bars."

There are 50 bars in Chapel Hill, the university's home town, and the campus has a long tradition of student drinking - including, he admits, by Dr Hooker when he went there in the 1960s.

Students now are under greater stress, he says, and look to alcohol as an escape valve, especially in large quantities and at great haste.

"People are drinking quickly to get as drunk as possible," said Dr Hooker. "They use binge drinking as a stress reduction tool."

Students surveyed at the university consume an average of 4.2 drinks per week and 37 per cent admitted to binge drinking - downing at least four or five drinks at one time - during the previous two weeks.

Those figures are about average on American campuses, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. It found in a poll that more than half of first-year students went on a drinking binge during their first week on the campus. Every freshman questioned said alcohol was easy to get and almost all said drinking restrictions were largely ignored.

The minimum legal drinking age in the US is 21, theoretically making it illegal for most undergraduates to drink.

"Drinking holds an integral place in collegiate culture," the UNC student newspaper said. "Until that culture begins to send a message that not drinking is acceptable, the university's actions will have little effect."

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