Alcohol arrestsgood news for U

Underage drinkers on campus must be looking over their shoulders these days. While underage drinking will likely remain a fact of University life, the administration is not making it easy. A continuing crackdown on the problem and increased penalties for providing alcohol to underage drinkers allows the University to maintain an environment hostile to underage drinking, curtailing illegal, dangerous consumption.
A report released Sunday by the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked the University second in the nation for alcohol-related arrests in 1997-98. The 555 arrests, up 45 percent from the previous year, catapulted the University up from fourth place. One must certainly take these numbers with a grain of salt. The actual numbers are indicative of increased enforcement of policies on campuses, not increased usage of illicit substances. The University’s demonstrated desire to create a low-tolerance environment is encouraging.
The state of Minnesota has provided the University with another weapon to combat underage drinking. Gov. Jesse Ventura signed a bill Monday that changes the charge for providing alcohol to underage drinkers from a gross misdemeanor to a felony, effective Aug. 1. Such increased penalties will force individuals 21 and older to reconsider whether they wish to risk jail time for buying a six-pack for their friends. By stopping drinking at the source, our campus will become a safer place.
Underage drinking has been a problem since Minnesota’s minimum drinking age was raised to 21 on Sept. 1, 1986. Students free of structured home environments for the first time take advantage of the situation by rebelling, experimenting and simply having a good time. Perhaps this environment should not change — going away to school without trying new things would be a waste of four years. But experimentation frequently leads to excess, the real problem that must be addressed.
Anyone walking down a Dinkytown street late on a Saturday night sees in the empty bottles, raucous parties and stumbling undergraduates that excess remains a challenge. The University would do well to follow the lead of other states and colleges by bringing the fear of home back into the minds of underage drinkers. Last week the Massachusetts state Board of Higher Education unanimously voted to join Indiana University, Lafayette College, the University of Delaware, Georgetown University and Clemson University by instituting a policy that requires public colleges to report incidents of underage drinking to offenders’ parents. Young people learn responsibility and moderation as much from their families as from their environments. Returning parental pressure to the equation will speed the increase of responsible behavior on campus.
Contrary to what many drinking-prevention programs want undergraduates to believe, alcohol is not inherently evil. Alcohol is dangerous when binge drinking, rather than moderation, becomes the norm. Underage drinking will not end on campus anytime soon. The University should work to seize the number-one ranking on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s list away from Michigan State University. Having the most arrests will not mean we have the most drinking; it will mean we have an administration genuinely trying to help University students.