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Jeffrey Sunshine on Kegs

Matthew Sunshine4.jpgSince the death of their son Matthew at Northwestern in 2008 — the freshman died after imbibing 17 shots of vodka in a drinking game; his fellow students did not call for emergency help; they simply put Sunshine to bed, and he was dead by morning — attorney Jeffrey Sunshine and public health physician Suzanne Fields have worked extensively on the issue of student abuse of alcohol. Among other activities, Sunshine has monitored the extensive settlement between the Sunshine family and Northwestern, and Fields was central in establishing the Red Watch Band program at Northwestern and at SUNY Stony Brook, where she is a professor.

A regular reader of this space, Sunshine wrote in to comment on keg policy after reading about Bill Mitchell ‘79’s BanThe Can initiative that we described on Friday:

I do not know if you are aware but beer kegs are prohibited by many colleges including, I believe, a majority of the Ivies. This policy was one of the initiatives implemented by many colleges to cut down on underage and binge drinking based on the assumption that cutting down on high-volume and relatively inexpensive ways to dispense alcohol was an easy way to address the problem.

Joe, here we appear to agree. It is a stupid idea and I have found no academic study indicating it actually works. In fact, in my opinion (but without any empirical evidence), it would appear that the law of unintended consequences might be at work here.

For example, if a keg is the only source of alcohol at a party, it is easy to monitor a person’s consumption, which we in fact did at my fraternity when I was an undergrad at another Ivy league institution in the 1970’s. At every party, we had a person or several people — who were not allowed to drink — assigned to monitor the keg, and who had full authority to cut anyone off who appeared to be drunk or to be getting drunk or to be drinking in excess. Also, no one was permitted to bring any other alcohol to our house, so the keg was the sole source of alcohol. And, by the way, there was no charge for beer from the keg.

The banning of kegs seems to preclude self-monitoring like the above, and might actually encourage the drinking of dangerous hard liquor. Due to the high cost of bottled or canned beer, it is cheaper to drink hard liquor.

The anti-keg policy, in my opinion, is an instance of college presidents taking the easy way out by appearing to take action instead of addressing the real problem, the culture of alcohol and, in many cases, drinking for the primary purpose of getting drunk — and where drinking itself is the social activity, instead of having a drink as an adjunct to some other social activity such as at a dance or watching a sporting event or eating.

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