Chancellor's Recent Speeches

National Meeting on Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention in Higher Education
Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention
Washington, DC

Good morning. I want to begin by thanking you all for being here. The work that you do is extremely valuable to students and campus communities around the country.

I have been asked to tell you a little bit about the California State University's new systemwide alcohol policy.

As soon as we approved this policy, our phones started ringing off the hook. We got calls from all around the country — from other universities, from alcohol prevention organizations, and from members of the media.

When NBC Nightly News showed up at my door, I knew we had really struck a nerve.

One of the first things I told those reporters was that this is not just a California State University problem. This is a national higher education problem.

But I know we have some critics out there. Some people say, "You can't stop students from abusing alcohol. It's a part of college life that's never going to change. So you may as well not even try."

To that kind of thinking, I say, "You're all wrong."

We already know that the alternative — doing nothing — can have tragic consequences.

I believe that if we — chancellors, presidents, faculty, staff, students, and community members — make the prevention of alcohol abuse a priority, we can make a difference. I believe that if we help students understand what is safe and reasonable, we can prevent more tragedies from occurring on our campuses.

And if we save the life of just one student, we will be successful.

I want to talk briefly about what led us to designing this plan, how we implemented it, and our goals for the future.

A University-Wide Challenge

I first started looking at this issue 17 years ago, when I became the chancellor of the State University System of Florida.

I asked people on campus what was the biggest problem at the university. Time after time, people told me "Alcohol abuse."

I learned that almost every problem on campus has a direct relationship with alcohol. Poor grades, date rape, fighting, violence, property damage, damage in dormitories, you name it — it can almost always be traced back to alcohol abuse.

Florida's universities are notorious for major events that involve a lot of drinking. There's the Pow Wow at FSU, the Gator Growl at the University of Florida. There's also the Florida-Georgia football game, which is known as the "world's largest outdoor cocktail party."

So I went out there to see for myself. I went to each of our campuses and I worked as a police officer on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. I saw extreme kinds of alcohol abuse:

  • I took keys away from students who could barely walk, let alone drive.
  • I saw property damage, vandalism, and people falling off balconies.
  • I saw young women so drunk they had to crawl back to their dormitories.
  • And I saw lots of injuries. One woman hurt herself so badly she needed 100 stitches in her face.

We also experienced the absolute worst-case scenario — student fatalities.

So I decided that our university community needed to take responsibility for building a safe learning environment for our students. After all, students and parents have a right to expect safety in their schools.

I did not want us going out there to stop drinking altogether. That would be foolish and impossible. But I felt that we needed to do something to keep the worst from happening.

When we created our alcohol policy in Florida, we focused on alcoholism. I was surprised to learn how many students were alcoholics. We got health care grants from different organizations so that our campuses could offer alcohol counseling and treatment.

One other thing that makes me especially proud: BACCHUS (Boosting Alcohol Counseling Concerning the Health of University Students) was started at the University of Florida. Gerardo Gonzalez, who is now the dean of the school of education at Indiana University Bloomington did some very impressive work in starting this organization.

California's "Hidden" Problem

When I came to the CSU system, I didn't think that alcohol would be as big a problem as it was in Florida. Our 23 campuses have more commuter students and less football.

But the problem is every bit as big in California as it was in Florida. It may be a little more hidden, but it's still there.

Last fall, the CSU experienced a tragic loss. One of our students from Chico State died from alcohol poisoning. Shortly after, two alcohol poisoning cases at San Diego State put students in the hospital.

As we tried to think about what we could do, I said the same thing that I said in Florida: We need to take responsibility for building a safe learning environment for our students. So we formed an alcohol policy committee that had representation from students, faculty, staff, alumni, presidents, and administrators.

We chose Fresno State President John Welty to lead this committee. He has been a national board member of BACCHUS and he has done a lot of good work on this issue.

The committee listened to experts from around the country who told us about implementing responsible alcohol abuse prevention policies. This committee did an outstanding job in drawing up a plan that brings together the whole campus community into a new partnership.

The CSU's new systemwide policy calls for the following:

  • More education and paid training for those who provide this education;
  • Intervention and treatment for students;
  • Limits on alcohol vendor advertising;
  • Data-gathering and regular reviews of our policies;
  • Collaborative efforts between campuses and communities;
  • Partnerships with local law enforcement.

But I knew that none of this would mean anything if we didn't put some muscle into it. So the CSU system and the campuses are putting in a total of $1.1 million this year.

Our vice presidents for student affairs have taken the lead on implementing this policy.

They are establishing advisory councils, reviewing current campus policies, and evaluating the need for new programs.

We have met with several state agencies, such as the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, the Office of Traffic Safety, California Highway Patrol, and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

We're trying to develop strong partnerships between the state and the CSU to combat alcohol abuse among students. We're looking at grants for cooperative community/campus programs. We also are planning the first annual CSU alcohol conference. On April 12, the CSU will hold a systemwide conference on campus alcohol policies.

Can this policy make a difference?

I believe that it can, if we get the support and the commitment of the entire university community and if we sustain our commitment to this project. Plus we have built in an accountability function with regular reports to the CSU's Board of Trustees.

Once again, I believe that if we save the life of just one student, we will be successful.

I want to close by thanking the Department of Education and the Higher Education Center for its work.

This organization helps provide an incentive for campuses to focus on this issue.

The center is well positioned to help institutions partner together and learn from each other through best practices.

I want to thank you for pulling everyone together and for getting us to talk and learn more about this issue.

I also want to thank our attendees from around the country for the work that you are doing in your communities and at this conference.

I am glad to see that there are so many of you out there who are making this issue a real priority.

I really believe that your commitment will make a difference in the lives of our students.

Again, thank you very much.

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