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President Kim’s Alcohol Collaborative: Hanover is Neither Peru nor Rwanda
The three-day idyll on Lake Morey has begun as the 32 schools in President Kim’s Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking gather to discuss a problem that none of them has ever been able to dent. As the event’s press release candidly acknowledges, “Nearly 40 percent of college students engage in binge drinking, a number that has been virtually unchanged for decades.” Further sessions will be held in January 2012 and July 2012.
Curiously, Harvard, Columbia and Penn have chosen not to participate — with the absence of Harvard being particularly incomprehensible. One would have thought that at an institution where Jim Kim is so well known, administrators would have been first in line to partake in the fun.
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune summarized the Collaborative’s goals and methodology.
It’s the sort of thing that keeps college administrators awake at night. It’s why 14 schools [now 32], including Northwestern University, have formed the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking. The group initiative was launched by Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, a doctor who wants to apply strategies similar to those he used to fight tuberculosis in Peru and AIDS in Rwanda…
The emphasis is on measuring the impact of different tactics, so that data can be shared and compared by the whole group. In face-to-face meetings, the participants will discuss what worked and why and help each other implement the methods that are shown to be successful. The first meeting is this month.
From this writer’s standpoint, the use of methods that might have been successful in the Third World seems, if not evidence of hubris, at least naiveté — or just a failure to think things through. Assembling clinicians in poor countries so that they may share their successful and less successful medical experiences is a valid idea for places where the interchange of information is slow and unreliable. One clinic’s innovation might be unknown to others; after all, few if any people are systematically reviewing the problems that doctors face in such locales.
However, the opposite is true in America regarding the study of student drinking. The problem has been reviewed in great detail over many decades by highly qualified researchers. For example, there was a thorough study at Harvard headed by Professor Henry Wechsler:
The Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study (CAS) began in 1992. It ended 14 years, four national surveys, and more than 80 publications later…
CAS surveyed students at a nationally representative sample of 4-year colleges in the United States four times between in 1993 and 2001. More than 50,000 students at 120 colleges took part in the study.
The CAS website lists myriad publications on student alcohol abuse, and other sites, like College Drinking: Changing the Culture, created by the federal government’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), exhaustively analyze the use of alcohol by students.
The central finding of this research is that solutions to reducing student drinking do not presently exist. I spoke to an experienced researcher in the field and reviewed a fair bit of the literature; all sources confirm that there are no examples of success to be found, even among devoutly Christian schools. Can we expect a lakeside breakthrough from a collection of well meaning deans led by President Kim, supplemented by “industry experts,” none of whom has made any progress in this area in the past?
Where will the Collaborative end up — after a great deal of President Kim’s time and effort has been wasted? My guess is that we can expect a hodgepodge of ideas: alternative social venues, more non-alcoholic events, stricter control of fraternities and closer supervision of student social life, tighter limits on student access to alcohol, harsher disciplinary measures for underage drinking, multi-pronged efforts at educating students about the dangers of abuse, a bow or two to safety in the form of Good Sam policies, and on and on. When you put all of these policies together, and fund them generously, you will have everything that you need to make yet another failed attempt to reduce student alcohol consumption.
The only thing missing is a name for the whole contraption. May I suggest one? How about: The Student Life Initiative.
Note: For readers so inclined, you may read the original SLI proposal here.
Addendum: President Kim should concentrate on improving the quality of undergraduate education at the College. Matters like alcohol abuse are in the purview of the Dean of the College. If Dartmouth students were receiving a superb, engaging liberal arts education, they might be slightly less likely to go out and get hammered — though I wouldn’t bet heavily on that fact.
October 18, 2009
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August 29, 2009
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August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…