Colleges run bars to battle binges
Officials try to control drinking by keeping it on school grounds
By Glenn O'Neal USA TODAY March 30,1998

  Faced with the nagging problem of heavy drinking by college students, a number of colleges have decided to step behind the bar and take on the role of the barkeeper.
  Students have long been able to get a beer on campus, and not just at fraternity parties. A 1997 survey of more than 240 colleges by the Institute of Public Policy at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., reveals that students can buy alcohol by the drink on 40% of the campuses of four-year schools.
  What's different now, though, is that the campus run bar, where schools say they can better control who's consuming alcohol and how much, is emerging as an answer to the headline grabbing episodes arising from student drinking.
  Administrators at Salisbury State University in eastern Maryland opened The Crossroads Club last fall in one end of the old dining hall.
  "We've provided a place that's safer than being off campus," says college president William Merwin.
  The bar is decorated with memorabilia from the school's sailing club and lacrosse team, school T-shirts and pictures of students hamming it up for the camera. Student bartenders pour $1.50 glasses of beer for 21-and-over students, who must wear brightly colored wristbands, and serve glasses of soda to underage students, identified by the waterproof "X" stamped on their hands.
  Kristina Crystal, a 22-year-old education major, says the on campus bar is a change from the bar scene in town, where patrons work on pickup lines with the opposite sex.
  "It's nice not having that whole ugly scene here;' she says while sipping a lager.
  Since 1996, deaths at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Louisiana State University, Indiana University in Pennsylvania, Frostburg State University in western Maryland and Hartwick College in New York have been linked to binge drinking. A nationwide 1995-96 survey by the Core Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale shows that 42% of college students were binge drinkers within the two weeks before the survey. Binge drinking means consumption of at least five drinks in a row for men, four for women.
  Other schools have responded by banning alcohol at school functions, suspending students who are caught with alcohol three times and only allowing students 21 or older to possess alcohol in the privacy of dorm rooms.
  Officials at schools like Salisbury State have a different view on combating the problem.
  "It's certainly advantageous to have people close to campus or on campus, where they would be less likely to drive," says Todd Wilson, spokesman at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, which opened a campus pub last fall. "I guess we don't take a puritan approach to it."
  Salisbury State dean Ronald Dotterer says too much conversation is spent on drinking or not rather than on responsible drinking. We're at the start of a trend, a trend of viewing the consumption of alcohol in a larger context," he says.
  A campus run bar fits in with the mission of educating students, he says.
  The seed for a campus bar at Salisbury State was planted by the Core survey - results of which alarmed college president Merwin.
  On the Salisbury campus, 45% of students said they drove a car after five drinks.
  "Not only is it against the law, but they were taking their lives in their hands," Merwin says.
An Alcohol Task Force of students, parents and faculty began a meeting and delivered 49 recommendations to administrators. The school agreed to extend the hours of the school library and gym and approved a recommendation for an on campus bar.
  Merwin says students were drinking heavily off campus because they felt there wasn’t anything to do on campus. The on campus bar gives students a place to drink in a controlled manner.
  Manager Mike Nugent says the club attracts 600 to 700 students a night, 1,200 on a record night.
  Students old enough to drink wear the brightly colored wristbands, which can be removed only by cutting them. Bartenders don't serve beer to students with cut wristbands, nor do they serve beer in pitchers anymore because older students were pouring beer for underage friends when the club first opened.
  A club isn't a worry-free operation for the college.
  "We've increased our risk to a ce-tain extent," Merwin says, "I just feel like we are more in control of the culture now than before."
  Just before spring break, more than a dozen students trickled in to have a few beers, play pool or watch the University of Maryland take on the University of Arizona in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
  Students say the pub is a good place to mingle both for underage students and those 21 or older. It's one alternative for underage students to going to an off campus party, paying $2 to the residents and hovering around a keg.
  "This is a much better environment for them to go than going to a party off campus where they can drink all they want;' says James Blaine, a 21-year-old junior.
  But students old enough to drink legally are enticed to off campus bars because of cost. A local bar that night was offering small draft beers for 25 cents, a bargain considering a 16-ounce beer at The Crossroads is $1.50 and a 22-ounce beer is $2.25.
  "It's too expensive here for a college bar," Blaine says.
  Jessica Marshall, 22, questions whether the on campus bar stems the tide of binge drinking.
  "It's something that occurs on every campus," she says. "People are going to find a way to drink if they want to.
  Salisbury State administrators say it's too early to tell whether the on campus bar is helping solve the problem of binge drinking.
  An oncampus pub is not necessarily profitable either, with Salis-bury's Crossroads Club just break-ing even.
  The campus pub at Johns Ho-kins University in Baltimore, called E-Level, had lost about $50,000 since its opening in 1994 before attendance picked up this year, says manager Pat Bearry, Pool tables, dartboards and a canoe hanging from the ceiling made the pub look like a pub instead of a dingy classroom. Bearry says the pub will likely turn a $20,000 profit this year.
  David Anderson, professor at George Mason's Institute of Public Policy, says schools' efforts to curb heavy drinking have been eroding the past few years. The school's survey of colleges nationwide shows that in 1991, 95% of schools mandated that nonalcoholic drinks be served at functions where alcohol was served. Last year that number dropped to 87%, he says.
  Alan Marlatt, psychology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, says an on campus bar is a pragmatic approach to "just say how," as opposed to "just say no' "
  "Alcohol is a part of society," Marlatt says. "If you ban it altogether, it's like banning sexual activity: It's going to go on anyway and be more difficult to track. It will go underground."