Chancellor's Recent Speeches

National Conference on the Social Norms Model
Anaheim, CA

Thank you, Michael (Michael P. Haines, director, National Social Norms Resource Center). And thank you all for being here. The work that you do is incredibly valuable to our students and our campus communities.

As Michael mentioned, the California State University's Board of Trustees recently approved a systemwide alcohol policy that emphasizes personal, institutional, and community responsibility.

Ever since we announced this policy, our phones have been ringing off the hook. We've been getting 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 last Friday, I knew we had really struck a nerve.

All of the attention has convinced me that this is not just a California State University problem. This is a national higher education problem.

The CSU is proud to be a sponsor of this conference and we have teams here from all of our campuses.

But we also 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 believe that if we - chancellors, presidents, faculty, staff, and students - make the prevention of alcohol abuse a priority, we can make a difference. We believe that if we help students understand what is safe, what is reasonable, and what is social, 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 this morning about why we implemented this plan and what we think we can accomplish.

The "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party"

My concern about this issue began 16 years ago. In 1985, when I became the chancellor of the State University System of Florida, I asked what were the biggest problems in the university system. Time after time, people told me "Alcohol abuse."

When I met with the campus police, they told me that hard drugs represented just 5 percent of our substance abuse problem. Alcohol was 95 percent of the problem. I also learned that on a college campus almost every problem has a one-to-one relationship with alcohol: Poor grades, date rape, fights, property damage, wrecks, you name it - it can almost always be traced back to alcohol abuse.

So I went out there to see for myself. I went to each of our campuses and I worked all night as a police officer, on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.

One thing that's important to understand about Florida: Three of the biggest events of the year coincide with football games. And those events mean lots of drinking.

There's the Pow Wow at FSU and Gator Growl at the University of Florida. These are held on the Friday night before the big Saturday game. These events are gigantic - the Gator Growl, for instance, sells 80,000 tickets - and they fill the stadium for a massive show.

Then in the first weekend of November there's the Florida-Georgia football game in Jacksonville. This event has been called the "largest outdoor cocktail party in the world." You can even read about this party in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

When I worked on the night shift with the police, I saw the most extreme kinds of alcohol abuse.

I took keys away from students who could barely walk, let alone drive.
I saw property damage, vandalism, people falling off balconies.
I saw young women so drunk they were crawling on their hands and knees back to their dormitories.
And I saw injuries - cuts, gashes, people who needed stitches. One girl hurt herself so badly she needed 100 stitches in her face.

But that's not the worst of it. During the time that I was chancellor in Florida, we had some student fatalities. Think about it - students who lost their lives because of drinking. It just doesn't make any sense.

So I said back then - and I still say now - We, the university community, need to take responsibility for building a safe learning environment for our students. We're not out to stop drinking altogether - that would be foolish and impossible. But we need to keep the worst from happening.

When we created our alcohol policy in Florida, we focused on alcohol abuse. 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.

I see Steve Meisberg in the audience from Florida State University. He is a consultant for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation project there, and he's an expert on this issue. Thank you for your work on this, Steve.

One other thing that makes me especially proud: BACCHUS was started at the University of Florida. All of us respect Gerardo Gonzalez for what he started. And I want to thank Ed Hammond for his leadership of this important organization.

I became quite familiar with this organization because my son was a big BACCHUS supporter at FSU. They would have parties where they didn't serve alcohol, and they would talk about responsible drinking.

So I want thank all of you who work with BACCHUS and GAMMA. Your organizations help create important models for our students and our campuses.

California's "Hidden" Problem

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

But the problem is every 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 other alcohol poisoning cases at San Diego State put two 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. The committee listened to experts from around the country talk about responsible ways to implement alcohol abuse prevention policies.

I want to thank Fresno State President John Welty for leading this committee. John has been a national board member of BACCHUS for some time. He and his committee did an outstanding job in drawing up a plan that brings together the whole campus community.

The CSU's new policy calls for:

  • More education, especially using the social norms model, 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 police.

Most importantly, we are putting some muscle into it. The CSU system and the campuses will put in a total of $1.1 million.

Can it work? I believe that it can, if we get the support and the commitment of the entire university community: Personal, institutional, and community support.

Can the social norms approach help our students be more realistic about "normal" alcohol consumption? I believe that it can. The fact that all of you are here today makes me confident about that.

I know that it's hard for many students when they first come to campus. It's often their first time away from home, and their first time away from any kind of real supervision. They have complete freedom. At the same time, they're trying to fit in.

Without any kind of positive role models, it's easy for them to want to act out, go wild, and sometimes do dangerous and irresponsible things.

But when the peer pressure drives them in a more positive direction, they're more likely to stay safe and be responsible.

So I want to thank all of you for developing these positive messages. I believe they will help our students become more responsible individuals and community members.

And as I always say - if we save the life of just one student, we will be successful.

Thank you very much.

Back to speeches