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From the Daily: Sobering guidance

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published September 9, 2013

For new freshmen at the University, figuring out how to allocate time between coursework, student organizations, nightlife and other activities can be a daunting task. A new policy at the University of Idaho makes this juggling act even harder — now, freshmen who are unable to achieve that balance and receive a GPA of 1.0 or lower will be expelled. While this policy is part of a larger initiative aimed at combating underage drinking, it’s uniquely misguided. The University of Idaho should find other options to deal with underage drinking — options that support students academically and address the underlying problem, instead of just expelling students for having an extremely low first-semester GPA.

For better or worse, underage drinking happens on college campuses and is an important issue when it comes to students’ health and safety. As such, universities should address it through programs focusing on awareness and counseling for students who are actually abusing alcohol. The University of Idaho has taken steps in this direction other than the expulsion policy, including the creation of a required class for incoming freshmen that addresses substance abuse, new guidelines for fraternities and sororities for “alcohol-related activities” and the hiring of new staff members tasked with monitoring new policies — but that isn’t enough.

Investing in an academic intervention program for students whose grades aren’t up to par would be beneficial, since transitioning to college presents differing difficulties for every student — even those who don’t drink at all. LSA’s policy regarding student academic performance states that the University can suspend those students whose GPA is close to 0 or substantially below a 2.0 in their academic major, requiring them to take a semester off before requesting readmission to the University. This gives struggling students time to deal with whatever it is that’s preventing them from performing well academically. It also puts them in contact with a member of the Academic Standards Board so they can discuss the student’s suspension and where to go from there. While it’s still unnecessarily harsh, this policy gives students a break and shows that the University maintains its investment in those students' futures — something the University of Idaho’s policy doesn’t do.

If the administration at the University of Idaho wants to curb underage drinking at its school, it might want to take a look at some of the innovative policies other colleges and universities around the country have put in place. Stanford University has what its students call an “open-door” policy, where students drinking in their rooms in residence halls who leave their doors open don’t have to fear an intervention from police just because there may be underage drinking going on. This forces drinking into a more public atmosphere; such a policy could encourage both less drinking and increased safety of those who do drink. Bentley University has an initiative called OneLess, which educates students about alcohol and encourages them to consume one fewer alcoholic beverage whenever they do choose to drink. After only one year, this program has resulted in a student body that drinks more moderately.

Underage drinking is a reality — but that doesn’t mean colleges and universities have no power to affect it. Through programs that distribute information about how to stay safe while drinking and provide academic support, students’ college experiences can be improved.