Monday, April 05, 2010

UI's Mason Supports 21-Entry

April 5, 2010, 5:10 a.m.
And see "Why '21-Only' Is a Lie," March 27, 2010.

. . . but full stop, or only 4 hours a day?
(brought to you by*)

After four years of mild, and hopefully constructive, criticism of the University of Iowa's approach to the devastation wrought by its students binge drinking, it's a pleasure to be able to reproduce, with praise, a recent op ed column from its President, Sally Mason.

In the past, such concern as has been expressed has been more rhetoric than results. Obvious responses from the catalog of "what works" at other institutions have been sidestepped or compromised, as the school's reputation as a "party school," and the number of hospital admissions, have held steady or increased.

The last time drinking age questions were before the community (then as a referendum), concerned public health experts and parents were on one side, and a student movement supported by local bar owners and landlords were on the other. On that occasion the University sat on the sidelines and watched, saying in effect, "Why don't you and him fight; we'll hold your coats." Not a peep beyond that was heard from Jessup. Even now, a joint-bar-owner-university committee has announced it won't take a stand on the issue. (In fairness, after the referendum President Mason did refuse to join a movement of other university presidents in their support of the alcohol-intellectual-industrial complex's simplistic "solution": lower the drinking age to 18.)

So I'm proud of my University once again, for its current willingness to take a stand on one of the most significant issues confronting the community and University -- any stand -- but particularly because it has come down on the side of common sense and student safety.

Faculty groups, Provost Wallace Loh, and others in the UI community have demonstrated commendable leadership on the issue this time round. And now the President, Sally Mason, is also firmly on record.

Indeed, the only qualification to my enthusiasm is the continued confusion and conflating of "21-only entry" and what the City's proposed ordinance actually provides.

Under the current ordinance underage patrons can enter bars 24 hours a day -- 24/7/365.

If the proposal is put into effect, and not subsequently repealed or weakened, underage students will only be able to enter bars 20 hours a day -- 20/7/365. They will not be able to enter or stay in bars between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.

Clearly that is progress. The City Council and University are to be congratulated on considering and supporting such progress. And if one were going to select a four-hour period during the day for excluding underage drinkers, those would be the hours -- based on what we're told about when the worst consequences seem to flow with the alcohol.

But it is a long, long way from saying that those who are forbidden by Iowa law from buying, possessing or consuming alcohol should also, quite logically, be forbidden to enter establishments, the economic raison d'etre of which is to profit from the sale of alcohol.

Given that President Mason's column makes no mention of the 20-hour underage drinking window in every 24-hour day, it stands as an endorsement of a true 21-only entry ordinance -- something that is not currently on any table in Iowa City.

It is, however, not only on the table, but posted -- like Martin Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" -- on the door of every bar offering indulgences at our sister institution, Iowa State in Ames.

An earlier blog entry explores at greater length the distinction between 21-only and a 20-hour window, and provides the text of the Ames ordinance and the proposed Iowa City ordinance, so I will only provide a link, rather than repeat it all, here.

Nicholas Johnson, "Why '21-Only' Is a Lie; A Four Hour Restriction Ain't Prohibition," March 27, 2010.

So what's the harm of confusing the two ordinances? Aside from the inaccuracy (there would be no reason for it to be a deliberate misrepresentation) it does great harm to the cause of those supporting the proposed Iowa City ordinance (with the 20-hour drinking window). Why? Because it enables opponents of the proposal to gather support from those who believe a total exclusion of underage drinkers to be too extreme. Some who would otherwise support the ordinance as drafted, perceiving it to be, as it is, a rather mild and reasonable compromise between public health and private profits, can be brought around to oppose what the opponents (and, as we see, the media and proponents as well) characterize as a total, 24-hour prohibition on entry.

But this is all by way of introductory commentary.

What's most significant in this morning's blog entry is the President's commendable column itself, which is reproduced below. It is a strong, documented and well-written piece that effectively makes the case, is well worth reading -- and puts the University on the side of common sense, public health, student safety, and students' academic success.


Why Iowa City's Bar-Entry Age Should Be 21
Sally Mason
The Gazette
April 4, 2010, p. A15

The University of Iowa and greater Iowa City community have struggled for many years with a growing problem: the harmful effects of alcohol. Our community, however, has not yet taken the single most potent and obvious step.

People under the minimum legal drinking age do not belong in bars.

As president of the University of Iowa, I support a minimum bar entry age of 21. Alcohol is a common part of the college experience, but too many of our students drink on too many occasions in ways that are too risky. In every category that we study, a greater proportion of our students suffer harm than on the average college campus.

Consider these chilling statistics: As a result of alcohol use within the past year, 25 percent of our students report that they experienced physical injury; 51 percent did something they regretted; 9 percent got in trouble with the police; 49 percent forgot where they were, suggesting that some of the other harms may be underestimated.

These figures are as much as two times higher than the average rates seen on college campuses nationwide.

Our students also are harmed by alcohol more than their peers on the average campus because too many drink excessively. Furthermore, our students tend to drink in riskier ways, using responsible strategies — such as alternating drinks, avoiding drinking games and pacing themselves to one drink per hour — at rates about only one-third of the national average.

Accessibility is one of several empirically established predictors of high binge-drinking rates. Simply put, more students consume more alcohol where it is easier to obtain. A minimum bar entry age of 21 will increase safety mainly by decreasing the total number of students drinking on any given night.

Under the current ordinance, students below the legal drinking age have easy access to bars. According to published research, underage drinkers become more intoxicated in bars than those of legal age, itself a good reason to keep underage students out of bars.

Some suggest that students will just drink elsewhere, but students’ willingness to pay a cover charge suggests that bars offer a more attractive experience than other drinking venues. At least some students, absent the bar experience, will choose to drink less or less frequently.

More importantly, the defeatist assumption that drinking opportunities in downtown bars will be replaced one-for-one by drinking opportunities in other venues assumes no other environmental changes. If the city raises the minimum bar entry age and we collaboratively take other actions, we have the opportunity to reduce significantly the total volume of alcohol consumed by students.

To this end, the university will impose sanctions on students for relevant offenses that occur off campus. We will develop materials to help students learn about their responsibilities as tenants and neighbors, and will require AlcoholEdu, an evidence-based online educational program, of all entering undergraduates.

In addition, working with students, we will provide more attractive late-night activities in multiple venues.

We also are confident that this change will contribute to a change in the University of Iowa’s image. We already recruit a great many fine students who are serious about their studies. By bringing the minimum bar entry age in line with the federal drinking age, we will reduce our reputation as a party school and be better positioned to recruit even greater numbers of serious students who will positively impact our community and our state.

The history and the future of Iowa City and the University of Iowa are inextricably linked. Instituting a minimum bar entry age of 21 in our community will brighten the future of both.


* 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 Barleykorn said...

We should lower the drinking age to 18. If someone can in be drafted and sent to fight and die for this country they should be able to drink. I realize there is no draft currently. However, if there was one 18 year olds would go.

I think we need to be honest about alcohol use and remember the lessons of the prohibition era and beyond. Like it or not its intertwined with us and our history.

HMcKeag said...

Mr. Johnson,

My name is Heather McKeag and I am a student reporter at the University of Iowa. I was wondering if I could have your permission to quote some of your thoughts stated in your blog about the 21 ordinance for an assignment. Thank you for your time.

I have really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Heather McKeag

Nick said...

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