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College Drinking Prevention - Changing the Culture

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

Strategy/Strategic Vision

 

"An organization's strategy is both a starting point for change and a reference point for continuity. Any change an organization undertakes should be based on and congruent with its strategy."

Carr et al., 1996


 

Implementing strategy-driven alcohol-related programs involves taking two types of steps: aligning alcohol programs with a university's overall strategy and developing a strategic vision for alcohol efforts that clearly defines the goal(s).

At the University of Rhode Island and the University of Puget Sound, for example, reducing irresponsible alcohol use was fundamental to each school's strategy for improving the educational environment and increasing the university's academic standing. "When I came to Puget Sound, I had a mandate to clarify the university's mission and make major structural and academic changes to support our new direction," President Pierce explains. "We want to revitalize all aspects of our environment, and our alcohol initiatives are very consistent with this direction." At URI, strategic planners saw alcohol abuse as a major barrier to attracting better students and creating a culture of learning. "We knew we had to change both the reality and the image of URI as a 'party school,'"President Carothers says. "Our vision was to change the culture and attract a new kind of student, and getting a better handle on our alcohol problems has been an important factor in doing that. The results are already tangible. For instance, we now have more involvement in activities like music, library use is up, and dormitory vandalism is down."

An important element of Notre Dame's strategy is maximizing the quality of residential life. "We are deeply committed to our residential population," President Malloy explains. "About 85 percent of our students live on campus, and it is our greatest strength and source of loyalty to the university. I've lived in college dormitories for much of my adult life, so I know first-hand the impact irresponsible drinking has on the quality of residential life. About 90 percent of disciplinary problems are related to alcohol, so reducing alcohol-related harm is clearly central to our mission."

When it comes to establishing goals for strategically based alcohol efforts, two challenges arise. The first is clearly defining desired results on a topic fraught with subtext. "When our campus/community coalition began," recalls Rick Culliton, of the University of Vermont, "I was branded the coordinator of local antidrinking efforts on the front page of the local newspaper. This reflected the common fear in some constituencies that addressing alcohol problems is thinly disguised neo-prohibitionism. The reality is that we have carefully crafted our goal along with the community to maximize its acceptability, as well as to reflect our strategic vision of a civil environment. We found that addressing `underage' drinking did not resonate with students, so instead we established the goal as reducing high-risk drinking in dangerous situations. This is something almost everyone can support, and it is measurable."

The national drinking age of 21 presents a dilemma for many colleges, President Malloy believes. "The more overtly that administrations get involved in promoting moderate drinking, the more susceptible they may be to legal action. Yet at Notre Dame, and I suspect elsewhere, there is not enough support from our constituencies to make a totally dry campus a feasible option. However, there is widespread support for strong action that encourages moderation."

The second challenge is establishing realistic aims for countering a complex, age-old problem. At Louisiana State University, for example, encouraging personal responsibility and emphasizing student safety are the focus of alcohol-related goals. "When I spoke this year to incoming rushees of fraternities and sororities, I explained that we are working to create a culture in which students are careful and moderate in their alcohol use, and in which they look after each other," Chancellor Jenkins says. "I see it as a mark of success that students who see peers in trouble get them to the hospital quickly, instead of worrying about recriminations. Student safety is of paramount importance, and if we save one life, our program is working."

"I think it is important to look at goals in this area as incremental steps, not as a radical revolution," President Malloy adds. "It is not realistic to expect that colleges can eradicate alcohol problems among students, given the complexity of the issues and the role of alcohol in the broader social culture. But we can work to prevent alcohol-induced behavior that violates our sense of peace and security and that makes us passive contributors to the degradation of student lives."

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Last reviewed: 9/23/2005


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