Students, profs debate adding bar to Coffman

Regents’ policy currently bans the sale of alcohol on campus.

Eric Swanson

Currently, the only alcohol option in Coffman Union is the fourth-floor, members-only Campus Club.

On Wednesday night, the University’s Parliamentary Debate Society met in Moos Tower to argue the merits of adding a student bar to the union.

“It may be safer. It may provide a sense of community, but having a bar at Coffman cannot hurt,” said political science professor Tim Johnson, who, along with student debater Ryan Hays, argued in favor of a student bar.

Murray Sperber, an Indiana University professor and author of “Beer and Circus,” disagreed, as did student debater Zach Coelius.

“We should think long and hard before putting a pub in Coffman,” Sperber said. “A large portion of students say they drink to get drunk. Easy access promotes the culture of binge drinking to students.”

Sperber added, “I’m not a hypocrite. I consume many gallons of beer myself.”

The Parliamentary Debate Society chose the topic as a lighter issue, Hays said. However, others said a student bar in Coffman Union would pose serious problems.

“I don’t understand why we would even contemplate increasing the availability of alcohol on campus,” said Traci Toomey, a professor in the School of Public Health.

Toomey pointed to recent alcohol-related deaths on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses as evidence of problematic binge drinking on college campuses.

“The University should stay in the business of doing academic work and leave the selling of alcohol to businesses that are designed to do so,” Toomey said.

Several other universities – including Salisbury State University, the University of Oxford and the University of Southern California – have student bars on campus.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s student union, beer has been on tap for more than 70 years. The Stiftskeller bar was upgraded to 25 taps in 1979, food manager John Peek said.

“People come here to enjoy the atmosphere,” Peek said. “We make very little revenue from beer sales. If people want to binge drink, they go to a cheaper place.”

Peek said the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s chancellor raised the Stiftskeller’s prices by 5 percent to 10 percent in order to discourage binge drinking.

But Sperber said in Wednesday’s debate that Wisconsin leads the country in alcohol-related arrests.

Dan Weiske, president of the Twin Cities Student Unions Board of Governors, said the board has no official stance on the bar issue.

The Board of Regents decides campus alcohol policies, but the Board of Governors would have to approve putting a bar in the student union, Weiske said.

Regents’ policy currently bans the sale of alcohol on campus.

Many students said they like the idea, but acknowledged potential problems a bar in Coffman Union could cause.

“I think a bar would be cool. I would give it a try,” first-year student Brad Wiering said.

“It may have its downfalls,” sophomore Justin Johnson said. “But it would be a nice place to hang out and watch football.”