- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

University of Maryland junior Brian Novell feels he can talk to his parents about drinking. He might even tell them if he got caught breaking the school’s alcohol rules.

But would he want the university to tell his parents for him? No way.

“At this age, I am capable of figuring out what is best for me,” the 20-year-old said of a hotly contested element of Maryland’s new proposed alcohol policy. “I wouldn’t need the university to go tell my parents for me.”

Written in response to two student deaths at fraternities and alcohol-fueled riots two years ago, the suggested policy unifies various codes that govern drinking in dormitories and at fraternity parties and campus events.

The changes are meant to cap the misuse of alcohol on campus and teach students about the dangers of heavy drinking, said Pat Mielke, assistant vice president of student affairs and chairwoman of a task force that drafted the policy.

“It [alcohol] affects the campus in so many ways,” Miss Mielke said. “Most people think it affects only the individual, but it is also related to things like crime, poor academic performance, sexual assaults and date rapes.”

But some students say the policy, which includes tougher enforcement rules and trumps current alcohol regulations that govern fraternity and sorority parties, treads on their right to privacy and might push student drinking further underground.

Members of the university’s Greek organizations strongly criticized some components of the plan at a recent forum to discuss the recommendations. The Student Government Association also passed a resolution calling on the university to reject the plan.

The difference of opinion stems in part from varying perceptions of whether alcohol abuse is a problem on campus. The task force concludes in its report that “our campus is not immune from the terrifying effects of alcohol misuse.”

Many students, however, say that Maryland does not have an alcohol problem compared with other schools and that enough checks on drinking already are in place.

“Their [the task force] perception of alcohol use is inflated,” said Krysia Brzoska, outgoing president of the Delta Gamma sorority. “There should be some change, but this is coming down too hard.”

The university task force that drafted the proposal is made up of administrators, students, faculty and a parent.

It was formed in 2002, the year that 19-year-old Daniel Reardon died after drinking heavily at a fraternity pledge event. Earlier that school year, 20-year-old Alexander Klochkoff died after mixing alcohol and the drug GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate, a sedative-hypnotic).

Drunken students also spilled into the streets of downtown College Park after both of Maryland’s Final Four basketball games in March 2002. Police in riot gear were called in to break up the crowds.

The new recommendations focus heavily on education — students would get reminders on appropriate alcohol use in their acceptance letters, before spring break and just before they turn 21.

Three categories of offenses would be created, ranging from simple violations such as underage drinking, to repeat offenses and alcohol abuse that requires medical treatment.

For repeat offenders or cases of alcohol poisoning, the school would notify parents under the proposed policy. Currently, the school only tells parents about alcohol use if an ambulance takes a student to a hospital.

“What we are trying to do is capture the students who are headed for a train wreck, to intervene before an incident like the Reardon death,” said task force member Sharon Petrillo, the mother of a 22-year-old senior.

Miss Mielke said the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which allows schools to notify parents about student cases of health and safety emergencies, is justification for the policy. Other schools, such as the University of Delaware, have similar parental-notification procedures, she said.

But Stuart McPhail of the student American Civil Liberties Union chapter said that ignores the rights that students older than 18 have as adults.

He also points out that not all parents will handle the news equally — some might take their child out of school or mete out harsh punishment. Students also could avoid seeking medical help for alcohol problems for fear their parents would find out, he said.

“If a student wants to tell their parent, that is their choice. It is not up to the state or anyone else to interject themselves into that relationship,” Mr. McPhail said.

The campus Greek organizations complain the policy would replace their rules about alcohol.

Parties must be registered with the Interfraternity Council. Guests must bring their own beer and are limited to six cans each — no kegs allowed. Resident graduate students monitor the parties and report violations to a Greek judicial board, which hands out punishments.

Under the new policy, the graduate student would be replaced by a university staffer, and university police would step up monitoring of parties.

Some Greeks say that kind of oversight would scare most fraternities away from having parties, forcing students to go off campus to drink. With a recent spate of crime in the region, including the killing last year of a student in College Park, some students don’t want to leave campus for parties.

“You’re going to get a more unregulated system where things can happen off campus,” said Matt Jackowitz, a member of Zeta Psi and chief justice of the Greek council’s judicial branch.

Miss Mielke said the task force is open to suggestions and likely will make some revisions before the policy is ratified, which probably will occur early this year.

“Is it going to eliminate the problem? No,” Miss Mielke said. “But it will provide us with a clear point of view about where we want to be on this issue.”


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