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Underage Drinking Probed by Council: City of Boston decries alcohol availability

By Jennifer Lane and David Rodriguez
Staff Reporters

The Boston City Council's Public Safety Committee and University and Community Relations Committee held a joint hearing yesterday morning to discuss the issue of binge drinking on area college campuses.

"It's time to shut off the drinking in Boston," said Chairman of the Committee on Public Safety Brian Honan.

The Councillors heard statements from medical experts, emergency response officials, and representatives from many area universities, including MIT, Harvard, and Boston University.

"Kids come here (Boston) to get an education, not to go to booze parties," said Councillor Albert O'Neil.

The City Council plans to convene a special task force to spend six months and identify the issues around binge drinking and work on proposals to limit the behavior in college students.

Council investigates drinking

The Council received general information about the presence of underage drinking on college campuses. HenryWechsler, from the Harvard School of Public Health, spoke to the Council about his study of binge drinking.

Wechsler referred to the recent death of Scott S. Krueger '01 as "an unfortunate consequence of the style of drinking that is deeply entrenched and widespread at American colleges."

When Wechsler conducted a study of binge drinking three years ago, he found that 44 percent of college students reported that they are binge drinkers. Much of this behavior, Wechsler said, is centered around fraternity and sorority life. Seven out of eight fraternity house residents in Wechsler's survey of 140 universities were binge drinkers.

The councillors also spoke about problems with underage drinking, mostly in reference to the sale of liquor.

O'Neil talked about his conversation with a beer keg delivery man who admitted to checking only that the person receiving the alcohol was the same person who placed the order, and not whether that person was over 21.

O'Neil then briefly proposed a system whereby a copy of every beer keg delivery would be recorded with the local police.

Colleges testify to council

Local colleges, including MIT, Harvard, and Boston University, testified to the council about various alcohol policies and procedures in place at their institutions.

Dean of Students, Rosalind H. Williams updated the council on MIT's actions in the past week, including President Charles M. Vest's prohibition on the use of Institute funds to purchase alcohol at events where students under the age of 21 were present, and his commitment to build new undergraduate housing.

In response to Councillors' questions over MIT's role in the fraternity system, Assistant Dean and Adviser for Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups Neal H. Dorow clarified for the Council that the fraternities at MIT are privately owned and operated and that the "day to day responsibilities of running the living group belong to the undergraduates themselves."

The Councillors also asked several questions about how and when the Institute notifies parents about their student's unruly behavior.

Williams said that while she "wrote parents and encouraged them to discuss the general situation with their students," MIT's policy was generally not to specifically notify parents of wrong-doing on campus, in the interest of protecting student privacy.

Councillors further questioned this policy. "If I was working two jobs to put my child through college, I'd want to know what my child was up to," O'Neil said.

"We would encourage students to talk with their parents," on their own accord, said Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates.

Harvard University officials later stated that they adhere to a similar parental notification policy. Boston University officials, however, stated that a carbon-copy of any discipline report was automatically sent to the parents of a student.

Students, city must back policies

In forming alcohol policy, "we at MIT could not succeed without working with the cities of Boston and Cambridge," Williams said.

The Councillors will be looking into the means by which they can contribute to solving the problem of underage drinking, including re-examining liquor sales policies and encouraging communication between campus police authorities and local police forces.

Many of those who testified also indicated that students were a vital party to future discussions.

In response to council members' questions about alcohol policies that he had seen work, Wechsler responded that while he couldn't point to a specific school that implemented an effective policy, he could "point to an approach."

A successful approach must encompass the whole community, Wechsler said. "Colleges cannot do it alone." Additionally, colleges "have to get the students behind the program" for it to be successful, he said.

Bates said that "without the support of students we feel we cannot make progress."