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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI President Carothers receives national award for alcohol abuse policies and programs

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 11, 2004 -- When University of Rhode Island President Robert L. Carothers speaks to potential students and their parents at admissions events or during new student orientations, his message is always the same: "I tell them if their idea of college life is the abuse of alcohol or other substances, they should do us all a favor and go home. Substance abuse is not compatible with the University's vision of building a new culture of learning."

For the past decade, the president has been vocal, visible, and visionary in his efforts to curb alcohol use at URI, in the state, and in the nation.

Those wide-ranging efforts were recognized on March 10 when he and University of Delaware President David Roselle were cited for imposing some of the toughest alcohol abuse policies in the country. Each received the Presidents Leadership Group Award from the Education Development Center, a Newton, Mass., based research organization that runs a college health and safety division. The ceremony was held in Washington, D.C.

"It is no secret that excessive drinking in the college years is a growing problem among students," said U.S. Congressman James Langevin who spoke at the award ceremony. "Fortunately, there are individuals like Dr. Carothers with the necessary foresight and vision to curb such alarming trends."

As the congressman pointed out, alcohol abuse is not just a URI problem, but a national one. About 1,400 students die from alcohol-related injuries each year. According to a 2002 national study, another 500,000 are injured and 70,000 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assaults.

"Presidents are often reluctant to take on the alcohol issue for fear that acknowledging a problem exists may blemish the reputation of their institution, but I would ask them to consider the consequences of inaction," said former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who was scheduled to speak at the ceremony but was unable because of illness. "Were a tragedy to occur, the reputation of the institution would suffer tremendous damage. There is truly no good reason that justifies a college presidentís failure to take the lead on this issue."

Carothers willingly tackled the issue shortly after he arrived at URI, at a time when URI's party school image ranked number one on Princeton Review's list of party schools from 1993 to 95.
The president's new culture for learning shifted students from being passive learners to active ones with clearly defined expectations, and a "no tolerance" policy toward violence and drug and alcohol abuse.

During his tenure as president, URI has received more than $8 million in federal grants to reduce collegiate alcohol abuse and associated negative consequences. One of the researchers, Mark Wood, associate professor of psychology, is engaged in studies on binge drinking and community-wide efforts to curb abuses such as persuading local bar owners not to offer drink specials and one-on-one counseling sessions for students with two violations.

URI's comprehensive approaches have resulted in a substantial reduction of drunken driving, sexual assaults, vandalism, violence and missed classes, according to Wood.

In addition to spearheading success on campus, President Carothers testified in favor of reducing the stateís limit on drivers' blood alcohol content from .10 to .08. The Rhode Island Council on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependence presented the president with its James H. Ottmar Award for its successful passage into law, in part due to his lobbying efforts.

Carothers serves on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's College Drinking Task Forceís Panel on Prevention and Treatment, and was instrumental in the creation of the groundbreaking NIAAA report, A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges.
Carothers is quick to point out that although he was presented with the national award, the honor also belongs to the entire community, especially the faculty, researchers, student life, police and students.

"All our efforts have been to make this a safe environment in which our students can learn. While we have made progress, we recognize there is still much to be done," he said.

Accomplishments and Outcomes

Under President Carothers' leadership, URI has adopted comprehensive approaches to substance abuse that include:

o All social events with alcohol are prohibited on campus including at Greek facilities. Violations. of URI's alcohol policy are handled with a "three strikes and you're out" policy.

o Parents are notified routinely by mail after the second on-campus alcohol or drug violation and after the first violation if it is a serious one. They are also notified of off-campus alcohol violations occurring in neighboring towns.

o The "Alcohol Team," part of the Presidentís Health Promotion Partnership, implements policies and prevention programs. This partnership links campus-based research on alcohol behaviors at URI to prevention and outreach efforts of the Office of Student Life.

o Freshmen receive alcohol awareness information through a required URI 101 class designed to acclimate them to campus life.

o Faculty support in alcohol prevention efforts by enforcement of more stringent class attendance policies.

o URI-Narragansett Community Coalition was formed to address alcohol problems in concert with the community. In its first year alone, the Coalition achieved a 39 percent decline in off-campus alcohol and party-related complaints to police.

o As a result of these ongoing efforts, URI has witnessed a number of promising trends:

o In 1998, URI was cited among nine schools out of 140 in a Harvard School of Public Health national study that showed a statistically significant decline in binge-drinking from when the first survey was conducted in 1994.

o Following a policy change to a "dry" Homecoming, the number of alcohol-related medical transports during Homecoming went from an average of 14 in the three years prior to the policy change, to zero transports over the past two years.

o Student attendance at drug awareness workshops has increased sharply. In 1995-96, 2,700 students participated in various programs; by 1997-98, 6,500 -- about half of the student body -- participated in such programs.

o Data indicate that minor alcohol violations are addressed more consistently and strictly. The more serious violations, which combine alcohol use with behaviors such as vandalism or endangerment, declined noticeably.

o Only about 10 percent of the students cited for violations are cited a second time.

o Since 1991, hundreds of grants have been given from the alcohol fine revenue to support weekend social activities, that exclude alcohol.