Wednesday, November 18, 2009

UI Has a Drinking Problem

November 18, 2009, 7:40 a.m.; November 19, 2009, 10:15 a.m.; November 20, 2009, 6:30 a.m.

Updates: UI VP Medical Jean Robillard says patient-donation-dunning plan "canceled a week ago"; spokesperson "clarifies," says "canceled" means "under review," B.A. Morelli, "Leaders Address Employee Concerns; UI Officials: No Decision on Job Issues," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A3; Ashley Oerman, "UI Cancels Asking Patients for Money," The Daily Iowan, November 20, 2009, p. A1; UI's Funded Retirement Insurance Committee asks President Mason to "abolish rather than just delay" UIHC's "patient donation plan," B.A. Morelli, "Group Wants UIHC Patient Donation Plan Nixed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009, p. A1;

Two Spence break-in grand jury witnesses jailed for refusal to testify, one now indicted, "UI Spence Break-In: Gazette Scoop Illustrates Issues," October 27, 2009; Anonymous, "Davenport Grand Jury Subpoena for Scott DeMuth," Nov. 11, 2009; "Two jailed for refusing to testify before grand jury," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 17, 2009; Carrie Feldman's Web site and the new "Support Carrie and Scott!"; "Activist indicted for alleged role in Spence Labs vandalism," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009 [in hard copy as "Man Indicted for Animal Terrorism," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A1]; Ann McGlynn, "Activist who refused grand jury testimony now charged with conspiracy," Quad City Times, November 19, 2009; Ann McGlynn and Diane Heldt, "Lab Break-in Charge Pleases UI Officials," The Gazette, November 20, 2009, p. A1; Regina Zilbermints, "Man Charged in Spence Action," The Daily Iowan, November 20, 2009, p. A1; Ann McGlynn, "Animal rights activist pleads not guilty in University of Iowa vandalism," Quad City Times, November 20, 2009;

Press-Citizen editorial: Hold off on VP for Strategic Communications: Editorial, "Stakes Have Risen for UI's Strategic Communication," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2009, p. A7 ("it's wrong when UI seems to care more about finding the right way to spin its decisions than about making the right decisions in the first place. The best strategy for UI communication is for officials to be more forthright and to show more common sense.");

Press-Citizen editorializes for 21-only, Editorial, "21-Only Still an Option for Bars with PAULAs," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2009, p. A7.

I'll Drink to That
(brought to you by*)

Iowa City's alcohol problem, sometimes in the media and always in its bars, is back in both this morning, . . .
. . . but first, here are links to earlier entries on some of the other hot topics from the past week or so that are now getting the most direct hits, among which may be the entries you are looking for:

UIHC, Regents and UI.
If UI has become a for-profit corporation . . .: "Corporatizing the University of Iowa; If We're Going to Do It, Let's Do It Right," November 17, 2009

Strategic Communications VP position: "Strategic Communications a Failed Strategy; Actions Speak Louder," November 13, 2009 [See "Updates," above]

Executives trip to Disney World: "Mickey Mouse Patient Satisfaction; UIHC's Troubles: Is Orlando the Answer?" November 8, 2009

"Contributions from patients" proposal: "UIHC: 'Sick Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'; A Check-In and a Check," October 31, 2009, 7:00 a.m. (with numerous updates through November 4, links to additional, related material -- and now with over 30 of the Press-Citizen readers' comments on B.A. Morelli's stories) [see "Updates," above]

Board of Regents and State universities' budget cutting: "Cutting Slack, Cutting Budgets; Regents, University Presidents, Deserve Some Thanks and Credit," October 30, 2009, 8:30 a.m. (with links to prior, related blog entries)

Spence break-in grand jury proceedings: "UI Spence Break-In: Gazette Scoop Illustrates Issues," October 27, 2009 [See "Updates," above]

School boundaries, school boards, and the ICCSD.
"School Board Election: Now Work Begins; It's Swisher, Dorau, Cooper; Old Board 'Starting Off Backing Up' With Consultant and Tough Decisions," September 9, 2009, 7:00 a.m. (with its links to 11 prior and related blog entries including, for example, "School Boundaries Consultant Folly; Tough Boundary Questions Are for Board, Not Consultants or Superintendent, Plus: What Consultant Could Do," and "Cluster Schools: Potential for IC District?")

Nicholas Johnson, "School Board Has Work to Do," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 2, 2009 (and reproduced in blog)

"Boundaries: Only Board Can Do Board's Job; Drawing School Boundaries Made Easy," November 2, 2009
The City Council has voted to deny a liquor license to one of the town's worst offenders. Josh O'Leary, "Council Denies Summit Liquor License," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 18, 2009, p. A1. Of course, that vote plus a fake ID will still get any underage UI student a beer at the Summit, since the bars "denied liquor licenses" continue to operate -- to the great profit of landlords and bar owners -- during the course of the bars' endless appeals. In this instance, bar owner Mike Porter has bought even more time by filing a lawsuit that asserts what he claims to be his constitutional right to violate the law. Lee Hermiston, "Bar Owner Sues Saying Criteria Unconstitutional," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 18, 2009, p. A1. [In the spirit of the "Fairness Doctrine," notwithstanding its repeal by the FCC, here is Mike Porter's response, received Nov. 18 at 3:58 p.m.: "I respectfully ask you not to use false and potentially libelous statements such as the following: 'bar owner Mike Porter has bought even more time by filing a lawsuit that asserts what he claims to be his constitutional right to violate the law.' Thank you, Mike Porter." If he would like to say any more on the subject it will also be included either here, or in a comment to the blog entry.]

Meanwhile, UI Provost Wallace Loh and Student Services VP Tom Rocklin have jointly authored an op ed, published by virtually every local paper, outlining how serious the University is about curbing alcohol abuse. Wallace D. Loh and Tom Rocklin, "Helping to change the culture of high-risk drinking," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 11, 2009.

But the efforts they describe are not found impressive by this morning's op ed author. Gary Sanders, "UI Slices Same Old Baloney," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 18, 2009, p. A11.

Loh and Rocklin write that "Our students report incidents of physical injury, unwanted or unsafe sexual experiences, property damage, impaired memory of their actions and diminished academic performance as effects of high-risk drinking." I'm informed as much as one-third of UI's students report such experiences.

But student alcohol abuse can lash back, like a scorpion in a Texan's boot, to strike UI administrators as well.

The two football players accused of a rape on October 14, 2007, have confronted nothing from the court system except continuances during the two years since, while they've been off playing football elsewhere. See, Nicholas Johnson, "University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08." But the local fallout for the University from that single incident has involved its being sued for a refusal to disclose public records, and now a suit against the University president by one of the vice presidents she peremptorily dismissed at the time (for wrongful termination and defamation). Lee Hermiston, "Attorneys argue over Mason's immunity in lawsuit," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 14, 2009.

In Iowa, just a week ago today, the Register reported that a Drake student with a blood alcohol level of 0.5 (6 times the Iowa maximum for drunk driving) was hospitalized and "nearly died" from alcohol poisoning. Tom Alex, "Two at Drake charged in hazing incident," Des Moines Register, November 11, 2009.

It is said that the only thing we know for sure about the hard drives in our computers is that they will, someday, crash. We just don't know when.

Student alcohol abuse is like that. Students will die -- whether in hospitals from alcohol poisoning, falls from buildings, choking on their own vomit, fights with or without guns, or freezing in an Iowa winter snow drift after passing out. We just don't know who or when. Students will be raped -- or as Loh and Rocklin prefer to call it, suffer an "unwanted sexual experience." We just don't know who, or when, or whether it will ever be reported. UI administrators will continue to suffer -- although by comparison with the students, in far less dramatic ways -- as a result. We just don't know who and when.

In the 725 entries in this blog over the past three years alcohol has often been a topic. See, e.g., "Alcohol's Impact on Iowa City," July 24, 2009 (praising Loh's "metrics"); "Some Solutions to College Binge Drinking," July 2, 2009 (with links to 6 more). Sometimes they've simply itemized the reasons alcohol is, by any measure -- economic, crime, medical consequences -- the nation's "number one hard drug." Others have dealt with alcohol and . . . the political power of the alcohol industry and local bar owners, athletes, crime and physical violence. Clearly it is, at least for Iowa City, a recurring theme -- a problem for which there has been, and continues to be, virtually no meaningful leadership.

As Gary Sanders points out, in today's op ed, linked above, "[the university] did absolutely nothing in support of the 21 bar entry referendum in 2007." In case you weren't following that issue, here are some basics. Iowa law forbids anyone under the age of 21 to buy or consume alcohol. This referendum did not propose to keep those under the age of 21 out of bars. Not at all -- although that is the way it was characterized by its bar owner-funded student opponents. It just would have provided that those under the age of 21 would have to binge drink even faster -- get the job done by 10:00 p.m., rather than leisurely drinking until 2:00 a.m. Supporters could not even get the UI leadership to support that proposal!

I'm not going to repeat here all the ideas I've put forward over the past three years. But I will mention one.

Mason Williams -- composer and performer of "Classical Gas," Emmy award-winning head writer of the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" -- is, among other things, a master of the one-liner. One of his is, "Here's a ball; don't bounce it."

That is to say, if you hand someone a compelling opportunity they will probably seize it; it's kind of silly to expect otherwise.

Communities and colleges that care realize that any meaningful, serious attempts to reduce the consequences of students' alcohol abuse, in states that set the drinking age at 21, must keep underage students out of bars. It's kind of a no-brainer; a sort of "duh?"

These are for-profit businesses that make their profit from one operation only: the sale of alcohol. The reason customers enter their bars is to buy and consume alcohol. That being the case, why anyone would seriously propose that meaningful improvements in student behavior could be achieved by handing underage students a glass of beer and saying, "Here's a beer; don't drink it," is beyond me.

We may not need a Carrie Nation swinging her hatchet at bars and barrels of whiskey, but we do need someone with an equivalent focus, will and political courage if we're ever going to do anything meaningful about these problems.

The answers are out there on the Internet. We don't need more studies. We could even look to one of our sister Regents' institutions, Iowa State, for leadership -- since, though far from perfect, their numbers are much better than ours.

But so far, as of this morning, I don't see that leader anywhere around Iowa City; not in the City Council and not in Jessup -- nor I might note, in fairness to them, in a public groundswell demanding action.

Like the fellow who saw a billboard that said, "Drink Canada Dry," and went up there to try to do it, Iowa's students are going to continue to binge drink and they, and all the rest of us, will continue to pay the heavy, heavy consequences.
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson
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John Neff said...

I am not aware of any historical evidence that it is possible to limit access to alcohol. The prisons have the most controlled environment in this country and they are not able to keep alcohol from prisoners.

I don't know if you are interested but there are step-by-step instructions on how to make prison hooch in your toilet. Serving that stuff might be a good way to get rid of unwelcome guests.

The whole point of making bars 21 only is to move the problems out of the downtown zone. If you move the drinking to the campus that would be better than having them drive someplace else to drink and then drive back drunk.

When I moved here in 1964 the under 21 crowd would have parties at the reservoir and then drive back drunk to Iowa City. The police hated that and I do not want to see a return to that behavior either.

The high risk age range for alcohol abuse is 18 to 29 and the lowest risk age group is 65 and older. If you use 1/50 to estimate the number of Johnson County residents that have an alcohol dependence there are about 2,600 and at least 600 of them are UI students.

A private university can screen prospective students for potential alcohol abuse problems and refuse to admit them but the UI and KCC are state schools and they are not allowed to exclude students on the basis of risk. They can expel them if they violate conduct rules or fail to make progress towards achieving a degree.

John said...

There's two different problems here: alcohol abuse and the drinking age. We have no credibility dealing with the abuse until we acknowledge that the 21 year age is a failure.

Once we acknowledge that an 18 year old is an adult with the right to have *A* drink, we can more effectively teach people how not to have *too much* to drink.

John Neff said...


Suppose there was a maximum legal age to drink and people older than the maximum could be cited and fined for possession of alcohol while over the legal age. How many of the old folk do you think would obey such a law?

John Barleykorn said...

The State of Iowa is a problem you need to consider in this situation. Often times, cities make attempts to deny permits to establishments because of fights, etc. only to have it overturned at the state level. In fact, cities are now lobbying the legislature in an attempt to make bar owners more responsible by problems stemming from drinkers. Guess what? It will go NOWHERE in the legislature most likely.

Not only that, prohibition doesn't work. Iowa City cracked down on keggers and just sent more kids downtown or to small apartment speakeasy partying. Is a 19 year old today a lot different than a 19 year old in the 1920's in this regard?