Sunday, June 15, 2014

Binge drinking by college students

12) Lots of comments on my last email about binge drinking by college students (I should have mentioned that the story was first aired in 2009):
Several years ago I tried to help save a chapter of my fraternity at Oregon State University. It didn't work.
We tried to impose no alcohol or drugs in the fraternity house and met stiff resistance regardless of age.
The house structures take a huge beating from the "drunks" and most don't care what happens to it.
I was shocked about how much binge drinking occurs not only at the frats but all over campus.
Yes, we partied too when I was at Oregon State but nothing, not even close to what goes on now.
This was confirmed by staff at the university we were trying to work with.
It's not just on the weekends but during the week too. It is not uncommon for students to get hammered 2-3 times a week.
This is a dangerous health problem.
From a college President:
Party Schools - I am in complete agreement that this has gotten out of hand.  The root of the problem, in my view, is the same thing that plagues higher ed in other areas - colleges seeking prestige.  How do you get prestige?  By recruiting students with high test scores and GPAs and charging them a lot of money.  The problem is that these students with high "merit" are disproportionately from higher-income families and are therefore less price-sensitive in choosing a college.  So, how do you recruit them?  With climbing walls, Starbucks, and private bedrooms.  You recruit them with a four-year campus vacation.  In the process, you send the message that college is more about social life than academics and then we're all shocked when they party for four (or five or six) years.
I forwarded it to everyone who works with me on the Youth Aid Panel (YAP) an alternative to court for first-time juvenile offenders, a program run by our county DA's office. When YAP was initiated in our county 13 years ago,  I co-founded it in our township where most of the offenses are alcohol related. It's an all-volunteer effort, coordinated with the local police department.
We've seen some pretty scary cases over the years, including a recent case where a 15-year-old girl nearly died alcohol poisoning. We've seen a steady increase in cases of binge drinking involving girls since 2001, and try to educate them about the risks not just of alcohol poisoning, but also of sexual assault.
I enjoyed this email. I think the issue we face is very similar to what Britain faced in the early 1900's and what noam chomsky's earlier books discussed. Countries go through the same experience families do. As wealth/safety accumulates, the urgency and hunger to succeed slows. Having graduated less than a decade ago myself, I can tell you that my school (an Ivy league school known for intensity) had a similar percentage of binge drinkers. It's become the culture and norm, not the outlier. In fact, I even find myself slipping and telling my young cousins, it's part of growing up and going to collegeā€¦its how you make friends. We've tricked ourselves into thinking that its part of life. I think it ties together with the obsession with networking and the lack of skill development we see today. Ask anyone who attends a top school, the foreign students are insanely focused on finishing school and making something of their lives. Just take a look at any engineering school (at a top university), it's ALWAYS greater than 50% India, Chinese or foreign. Always. These students never "risk" not having enough time to study by going to a party. Their parents are spending real money and they know it and feel it. For us born and raised here, we're often taken care of by our parents or using borrowed money. We don't realize that school success, equals life success. As societies grow, complacency and the desire for the social aspects of life come to the forefront (I think).
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but when we gave up on curriculum -- and instituted the ME education -- we opened the floodgates to an educational narcisism that has wrecked our schools and is now taking its toll on the culture.
In other words, there was a time when "discipline" meant a particular course of study, whether in the sciences or the humanities; a course of study that was driven by knowledge -- and a belief in knowledge, and a belief in the need to know. Once we gave up our faith in knowledge, which was quickly followed by the loss of the disciplined study of knowledge -- well, hello binge drinking!
This is the haiku version of the last 50 years of education dissolution.  As you know all too well, poor kids feel it first and hardest.  But there's plenty of evidence (see Paul Peterson et al) that our so-called smart kids are getting dumber too....
You've just got to read Hirsch. 
I don't know if the Penn State story is typical, but I do know it isn't universal.  I have lived in Berkeley for 50 years, 1964-2014, and I've worked at and around the University all but three of those years.  From 1969 through 1977 I taught at The Wright Institute, which is in the middle of fraternity row, and from 1974 through 1977 I was a student at the School of Law, adjacent to fraternity row.  I still spend a lot of time around that corner of the U.C. campus, including weekend nights. 
In the 1960s and 1970s, it appeared to me that there was less drinking at Berkeley's fraternities and sororities than I'd seen at Yale's fraternities (1953-1957), and today, it seems to me, there is less than there was in the '60s and '70s.  The change probably has a lot to do with a radical change in the student body.  In the 1960's, students were overwhelmingly White.  Today they are about 40 percent Asians and Asian Americans. 
As for the nine other U.C. campuses, one, Santa Barbara, had a reputation as a party school, at least it did during the 25 years I was an attorney for the University system, 1981-2007.  But none of the campuses, I'm confident, were or are like Penn State.  The system's problems--every large organization has problems--flowed through the Office of the General Counsel, where I worked.  I heard about them.  Occasionally I participated as a lawyer in student disciplinary hearings.  For about a decade I was the attorney assigned to the University Police, and I met regularly with the ten campus police chiefs to deal with their common and individual problems law enforcement problems.   Seldom, if ever, did I hear of alcohol-related problems involving students.
I wonder which is more typical, Penn State or U.C. 
And lastly:
I'm with you about shaking some sense into privileged college kids, and making them realize how damn lucky they are. 
Check out this piece -- it's a thoughtful take-down of Harvard's admissions policies by a Harvard alum. 
This is an excerpt from the piece:
"How much more honest and constructive would it be to speak instead of desert of opportunity? To speak of a Harvard education not as an entitlement, but as a gift of enormous magnitude--an opening of one's mind to a lifetime of learning--bestowed as an act of grace upon a select few, each of whom is the beneficiary of great luck. For some this luck comes early and often.For me it came in the form of parents who relentlessly advocated for my educational opportunity and insisted that I live my life as if it had no limits. For others, it comes at the moment when the thick admissions envelope arrives in the mail. But everyone who has had the privilege of walking through Harvard Yard and collecting a diploma is lucky beyond words and should have the humility to say so."

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