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NE: State senator attacks UNL alcohol policy

NE: State senator attacks UNL alcohol policy

Daily Nebraskan
By Zach Hammack
October 30, 2015
A state senator spent a legislative hearing on Friday, Oct. 23 attacking the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s alcohol policy.

Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, Nebraska called out what he saw as hypocrisy in alcohol access campus-wide.

According to UNL policy, students older than 21 years old are not allowed to consume alcohol on campus premises, in dorm rooms, for example.

However, alcohol is often served in on-campus buildings such as the Wick Alumni Center and Sheldon Art Museum.

Harvey Perlman and the university defended the policy against Larson’s arguments.

“It is a matter of context,” Steve Smith, director of University Communications, said in an email. “Only 12 percent of the nearly 6,500 students who live in the university’s residence halls are 21 or older. Allowing this small percentage of students access to alcohol in an environment where they are interspersed with students who are not of age would be very difficult to regulate.”

UNL applies for special designated alcohol licenses at some alumni and special events, according to Smith. Vendors are chosen from a university-approved list of state-licensed vendors.

“Minors do not have access to alcohol at any university event where these state-licensed vendors are in charge,” Smith said.

Linda Major, assistant to the vice chancellor for student affairs at UNL, testified at the General Affairs Committee spearheaded by Larson. Major presented data on student drinking defending the university’s current policy.

“Access and availability to alcohol is a predictor of both consumption and alcohol-related problems,” Major said. “With approximately 150 liquor licenses within a one-mile radius of campus, there are plenty of options for students 21 years of age and older to enjoy alcohol in a controlled environment.”

According to Major, underage students typically consume alcohol in neighborhoods surrounding campus.

“Permitting alcohol on the UNL campus will not solve this problem unless we are willing to ignore the enforcement of state underage drinking laws,” Major said.

While a majority of Big Ten schools don’t allow any drinking on campus premises, schools such as the University of Michigan and Ohio State University do allow drinking to a degree.

However, according to Smith, these precedents won’t win over UNL.

“Based on our experience, as well as our observations about what is happening at other universities, and our reading of the data in this area, it’s our opinion that changes would not be advisable at this time,” Smith said.

Some of this data involved a correlation between sexual assault and university alcohol policy.

According to Major, wet campuses report a great number of sexual assaults than campuses with tight alcohol regulations.

“Given the Title IX environment, it seems dangerous and/or reckless to liberalize campus alcohol policy,” Major said.

Larson’s inquiry is not the first alcohol-related lobbying in the state legislator’s history.

In 2014, Larson unsuccessfully backed a bill allowing bars to be open 24/7.

It is unclear whether Larson will introduce a bill in January targeted at UNL’s alcohol policy.

For now, according to Major, the university will stay dry to prevent high-risk drinking amongst minors and to protect the city of Lincoln as a whole.

Major said that UNL’s formula appears to be working but admitted there is no perfect solution.

“There is no silver bullet. There are no simple answers to prevent high-risk drinking among youth and young adults,” she said.