Friday, May 21, 2010

Lessons from Lincoln: Reducing Binge Drinking Hazards

May 21, 2010, 6:15 a.m.
[For BP disaster see, "Obama As Finger-Pointer-In-Chief," May 18, 2010; "Big Oil + Big Corruption = Big Mess," May 10, 2010; "P&L: Public Loss From Private Profit," May 3, 2010.]

Can University of Iowa Follow University of Nebraska's Lead?
(bought to you by*)

Last year this blog suggested that if there was anyone in Iowa City who was really serious about trying to reduce the adverse effects from the binge drinking of alcohol, there was a pretty good model of what we could do just a few miles to the west on Interstate 80. "UI's Alcohol Abuse: Look to Nebraska; 'What Works' to Reduce Students' Alcohol Abuse," December 28, 2009. (The earlier, "UI's Alcohol Problem: Many Solutions, Little Will; Alcohol Back in the News? No, Always in the News," December 16, 2009, provided an additional 30 links to more blog entries on the subject.)

Well, yesterday, instead of Iowa City residents having to go to Lincoln, the Partnership for Alcohol Safety brought Lincoln to Iowa City. B.A. Morelli, "UI looks at Neb. city's success; Despite no 21-only law, university's drinking rates down," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 21, 2010, p. A1; Diane Heldt, "Delegation details how Nebraska handles alcohol," The Gazette, May 21, 2010, p. A2.

Special thanks for yesterday's events go to Dr. Victoria Sharp, UI's special assistant to the provost for alcohol safety, and Sarah Hansen, director of assessment and strategic initiatives in the Division of Student Services.

Yesterday's Nebraska delegation included Linda Major, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs (who's played a major role in the creation and evolution of the effort since the beginning); Ian Newman, Ph.D., the Wesley C. Meierhenry Distinguished Professor in Educational Psychology at UNL and director of the Nebraska Prevention Center for Alcohol and other Drug Abuse; and Captain Joy Cita of the Lincoln Police Department.

Whatever the visit cost the University, it was worth it. Given my schedule, the only time I was able to spend with them was the media briefing over the noon hour. But from what I gathered, we worked them from dawn to dusk with separate meetings including University officials, faculty, staff, students, City Council members, downtown merchants, bar owners, media, and neighborhood association representatives. (There may have been other individuals and organizations as well.)

I have been critical in the past of the University's and City's lack of leadership on this issue. Nor have I been alone. Even former Mayor Ernie Lehman expressed a comparable frustration:

In the 12 years that I spent on the council, I tried several times to get the council to pass a 21 ordinance. University of Iowa presidents Mary Sue Coleman and David Skorton also encouraged the council to pass such an ordinance -- along with the UI College of Public Health, the public school system and numerous others within the community. In fact, every piece of credible evidence presented to the council called for a 21 ordinance -- all of which the council ignored, choosing instead to listen to the bar owners and patrons of the bars.

-- Former Iowa City Mayor, Ernie Lehman, "Council's Moral Character Problem," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 26, 2009, p. A11
So it's a great pleasure to be able to spread a little praise over the community's leadership today.

Of course, it's a little premature to say Iowa City has now solved its alcohol problems. Clearly, being curious about, and willing to learn from, the successes of others is a big improvement over ignoring them. But it's a long way from implementation -- as the Nebraska delegation has been the first to acknowledge.

1. To be successful in actually doing anything about binge drinking (or anything else for that matter) -- as distinguished from talking about it -- it cannot merely be "one of my 325 highest priority projects." It needs to be, if not number one, at least one of the top three or four. There needs to be a community-wide agreement that (a) binge drinking is a really serious problem, along with (b) a commitment to actually sticking with it until there has been a measurable reduction in its adverse effects on students and community alike.

2. There needs to be both an involvement of, and a buy-in by, every relevant group of stakeholders: university administrators, faculty, staff and students; parents; downtown merchants; bar owners and liquor stores; the City's council members and staff; university and City police; the faith community; and other organizations.

3. There's no cookie cutter approach or master plan. Each community needs to put together the components that best work for it.

4. Don't expect overnight miracles. Lincoln hasn't eliminated binge drinking; it has cut it by one-third. The University of Iowa's binge drinking rates (and its serious consequences) are among the highest in the nation (as formerly were those at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln). If we could also bring our rates down to the national averages, as Lincoln did, that would be a significant improvement.

Could the Lincoln lessons work in Iowa City? It's too early to tell. For one thing, the bar owners in Lincoln were a very important part of the project's success. Among other things, they imposed 21-only limitations on themselves and used peer pressure to bring the deviants into line. How likely is it that Iowa City bar owners would be as cooperative?

But clearly it's worth a try. Yesterday's briefings from Lincoln is the first step. This blog will continue to monitor whether Iowa City's "journey of 1000 miles" either begins -- or both begins and ends -- with this single step.

Meanwhile, if you're sufficiently interested in this to want to learn more about the details of how others have done it, take a look at the experience in California and at Penn State, as well as University of Nebraska, in "UI's Alcohol Abuse: Look to Nebraska; "What Works" to Reduce Students' Alcohol Abuse," December 28, 2009.

* 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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Anonymous said...

At this point the mess known as the University of Iowa, is not likely to solve many of it's problems. The good leadership needed is at Cornell (Skorton) and Illinois (who named Hogan President). What is left is a cesspool of poor leadership, corruption, and self-stabbed professors.

If anyone is listening out there (Board of Regents or state legislature) they should conduct and investigation into the deterioration of these state schools, which constitute important resources. They should investigate (among other things) student behaviors and drinking; corruption and nepotism especially in the UIHC but in the faculty and staff, financial irregularities, and poor academic performance.

Student drinking is the tip of the iceberg.

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Nick said...

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