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North Country Public Radio-Series on Area Campus Alcohol Issues-3 of 3

North Country colleges confront "gray zone" between alcohol and adulthood 06/20/07


SLU student Adam Falcon died after a night of drinking in 2004 (Source: SLU website)


Paul Smiths College has drawn criticism in recent weeks, following the alcohol-related deaths of two students in May. But academic and law enforcement officials across the region say the problem of underage drinking is complicated, with few easy answers. In the final part of our series on alcohol and campus safety, Brian Mann reports that the debate often winds up in a legal and ethical gray zone.

Broadcast transcript:

 BM-Reporter, North Country Public Radio

JM-John Mills, President Paul Smithís College in up-state New York

AM- Canton Village Police Chief Allan Mulkin

JT2- John Tolliver, Vice President and Dean of Student Life at St. Lawrence University

MC- Former New York Governor Mario Como

JT- Captain John Tibbitts, New York State Police

SG- Stephen Guest

DS- Daniel Sweeney is Dean of Students at SUNY-Canton 

DC- Franklin Countyís District Attorney Derek Champagne

SD- Susan Delehanty is Director of Community Services for Franklin County


BM-In November 2004, St. Lawrence University campus police launched a nationwide Amber alert search for 20 year old student Adam Falcon.  That winter, Canton Village Police Chief Allan Mulkin spoke with David Sumerstein

AM-   ÖAnd then went to a dorm party may have left and came back and then eventually made his way down to the Pink Pack Tavern. 

BM-Falcon was eventually found dead in the Grass River.  He had drowned after his night of drinking. Tragedies like this one have fueled a national debate over drinking and safety on college campuses. 

JT2-Its really vexing, to the point where I get together with a group of fellow deans called the Nine-One Deanís Group twice a year and when we get to talk about alcohol we identify ourselves as the deans of beer.

BM-John Tolliver, Vice President and Dean of Student Life at St. Lawrence University.  He came to the school after Falconís death, but he worked at other colleges, including Skidmore in Saratoga County. 

JT-Itís such an intense problem that it sometimes just jumps to the front of every issue and we do not get a lot of other work done. 

BM-It wasnít supposed to be this way.  As recently as the 1970ís, alcohol was a fairly accepted and mainstream part of campus culture.  But then law makers started pushing back the drinking age from eighteen to nineteen and then from nineteen to twenty-one.  Then Governor Mario Como appeared on North Country Public Radio in August of 1985. 

MC-We heard from young people that some of them were relieved  that they did not have to buy a drink.  A lot of them were buying drinks only out of peer pressure.  Now that we have made a rule that they canít enjoy going to ÖÖ

BM-This changing legal landscape made things far more complicated for campus administrators like John Mills, President of Paul Smithís College.  His students are legal adults in almost every way, except when it comes to alcohol. 

JM-What is the boundary that we can legitimately set up.  We canít tell parents about their grades.  Contradiction that we are setting up here youíre an adult, youíre responsible, you can go and fight for, oh no, you have to be under the control of a RA and have chaperones was the word that was used.

BM-Another unintended result development of these new laws is the rise of binge and closet drinking, a new sort of campus culture where alcohol becomes kind of an end in of itself.  Captain John Tibbitts works closely on campus drinking issues for New York State Police. 

JT-   We have gotten past the idea of having a few beers to drinking to get drunk.  To get as drunk as possible as fast as possible. 

BM-But some critics say college campuses havenít done enough to bring their student culture in line with state and federal drinking laws. 

SG-When kids come to campus, too many of them come with a view that this is their chance for uncontrolled use of alcohol. 

BM-Stephen Guestís daughter, Kristine, was 20 years old in 2005 when she died following a drinking party organized by students at Paul Smithís College.  Guest has become sort of an activist, suing Paul Smithís College, writing an editorial for the Chronicle of Higher Education and pushing the Federal government to link education funding with tighter alcohol controls.

SG-Itís up to the collegesí administration to set the standards and ensure that those who come to campus with that attitude do not take over the campus culture and have that become the prevailing culture that now exists at too many campuses.

BM-In the wake of campus deaths in the North Country, some community members have called for colleges to ban alcohol entirely, closing on-campus pubs and using police more aggressively to stop illegal underage drinking. But leaders at colleges and universities say they are trying to create a climate where young adults can learn to make responsible decisions. Daniel Sweeney is Dean of Students at SUNY-Canton.

DS- think with have a responsibility as an educational institution for education first and try to provide some mentorships, some role modeling, some counseling, some education for these young people who are developing adults.

BM-Academic leaders acknowledge that they are walking a fine line, a line that blurs every time there is another tragedy.  Again John Tolliver from St. Lawrence University.

 JT2-People in my shoes have to be balanced.  Thereís no way that we would ignore the law.  We would never tell people St. Lawrence is a safe haven do what you want.  Thatís both reckless to their health and I think not productive for our society.  At the same time, when I encounter people from off campus and say I got 2,000 kids there, why donít you just stop them from drinking.  My answer always is, the kids are not in prison. I would need a dean and a security officer per student in order to attempt, I do not know if we would succeed, to attempt to keep alcohol out of a residence home.

 BM-Itís important to note that many members of law enforcement and the judicial system agree.  They see drinking as a permanent part of college life and think schools will have to respond with nuanced programs and education.  Last week Franklin Countyís District Attorney Derek Champagne responded to calls for Paul Smithís College to go dry and close their campus pub.

 DC-I would hate to have them ban everything and all of the sudden have problems in Saranac Lake or problems in Vermont.  There are problems where all of the sudden there is an off-campus house or houses that are now where everyone goes to consume alcohol thatís of age.  So then we now have transportation issues of getting back to the grounds and you know, I do not think there are any easy solutions.   I think itís something that really needs to be thoroughly examined by a lot of different people.

 BM-But there is growing unwillingness in the broader community to accept campus drinking as a fact of life.  Susan Delehanty is Director of Community Services for Franklin County.  She led an alcohol safety and advisory committee formed by Paul Smithís College.

 SD-If they go to school and there is nobody there to give them that message that this is not OK, we do not expect that you will go out and do this.  Then there is really that sort of a passive acceptance of that behavior.  So, that I think was a concern.  Did that exist at the campus?  Was there more that could be done to really get the message that this isnít the right thing to do when you come to college.  That this is dangerous behavior, it is risk taking behavior, there are consequences to it and not to just look the other way and say that is just the way college kids are going to be. 

 BM-Itís a message that campus administrators like Daniel Sweeney at SUNY-Canton say they are hearing loud and clear. 

 DS- Iím not sure when you know when youíve won the battle and I do not think weíve won the battle thatís for sure. 

 For North Country Public Radio, I am Brian Mann.

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In loving Memory of Kristine Guest