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View From The President's Office: The Leadership Of Change

Joy R. Mara, M.A.

April 2002

Presidents And Administrators: Facing Up To College Drinking Problems

For Dr. Robert Carothers, president of the University of Rhode Island (URI), it was URI's being called the nation's number one "party school" in the infamous Princeton Review. For Dr. James Lyons, Sr., president of California State University (CSU) at Dominguez Hills, it was a commitment to taking on social issues that colleges and communities face together. For Dr. William Jenkins, former president and current chancellor of the Louisiana State University System, it was the phone call in the middle of the night. "This is the call every president dreads," Dr. Jenkins recalls. "During a fraternity drinking contest, one student had died on the floor of the house and several others had been hospitalized for alcohol overdose."

Reasons like these explain why many college presidents and administrators and community leaders have taken on the difficult task of reducing irresponsible drinking among college students. "Although the media focuses on the most extreme incidents, it is really a pervasive, everyday problem for most colleges," says Dr. Judith Ramaley, former president of the University of Vermont. "When you get down to it, underage drinking to excess has a negative effect on everything we're trying to do as a university. It compromises the educational environment, the safety of our students (both irresponsible drinkers themselves and other students hurt by their actions), the quality of life on campus, town/gown relationships, and our reputation. In light of all the harm alcohol can do, I believe that inaction may be the institutional equivalent of co-dependency."

While media and community critics often focus on their local colleges as "the problem," in fact high-risk college drinking is now a national concern. "It's an issue every college president has to face," notes Rev. Edward A. Malloy, CSC, president of Notre Dame University. "If a campus hasn't had an incident yet, it's only a matter of time."

This paper presents practical insights from college presidents and administrators about the process of implementing interventions to promote responsible alcohol-related behavior. While other background papers developed for the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's Task Force on College Drinking review the research on prevention approaches themselves, this one focuses on the practical issues that institutions face in launching and operating alcohol-related initiatives in the real world of people, politics, and problems. Approaching implementation issues from the perspective of organizational change theory and practice, the paper first discusses how institutions are addressing the organizational factors that can support—or hinder—alcohol program success. Then it describes the experiences of colleges and universities in working with key constituencies in changing college drinking patterns: campus and community groups that are change targets, change agents, or both. The paper concludes by listing the types of research presidents and administrators wish they had in order to develop the most effective possible programs to reduce college drinking problems.

To shed light on current practices in the absence of research on alcohol program implementation, this paper is based on interviews with college presidents participating in the NIAAA Task Force and some of its key administrators (see list below). This paper also includes information and insights from previous panels and groups addressing similar concerns. Those interviewed represent diverse college settings, situations, and programmatic directions. However, their experiences highlight common issues that will resonate on many campuses around the country. Although the implementation approaches presented have not been scientifically evaluated, other institutions may find them relevant, particularly when viewed in the framework of organizational change theory and practice.

College Presidents and Administrators Interviewed

Tomas A. Arcienega, President
California State University at Bakersfield

Robert L. Carothers, President
University of Rhode Island

John T. Casteen III, President
University of Virginia

Richard Culliton, Alcohol Program Director
University of Vermont

Edward T. Foote II, President
University of Miami

William L. Jenkins, Chancellor
Louisiana State University System

William Kirwan, President
Ohio State University

James E. Lyons, Sr., President
California State University at Dominguez Hills

Nancy Mathews, Project Director
Louisiana State University Community Coalition for Change

Edward A. Malloy, CSC, President
University of Notre Dame

Susan R. Pierce, President
University of Puget Sound

Judith Ramaley, former President
University of Vermont

David Williams, Vice President for Student Affairs and Community Relations
Ohio State University

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Last reviewed: 9/23/2005


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