University of Oregon ranks high for student drug, alcohol use

From the Eugene Register-Guard, June 4, 2011

Eugene Register Guard June 4 2011

Eugene Register Guard June 4 2011

Statistics for 2009 place the school at No. 3 among comparable colleges for violating drug rules

The University of Oregon might not rank in the Princeton Review’s or Playboy’s lists of top party schools, but recent data from the U.S. Department of Education suggest that alcohol and drug use among UO students is high — as measured by the number of violation notices issued by campus housing officials and the Department of Public Safety.

According to the 2009 federal data, the University of Oregon ranks No. 3 out of more than 200 comparably sized schools for the rate of students who are referred by housing, public safety and other campus officials for violating drug rules, and No. 4 for the number of students referred for violating alcohol rules.

Under the federal Clery Act, higher education institutions are required to report violations that occur on campus in an annual campus security report. The report must provide crime statistics for the past three years, detail campus and community policies about safety and security, and describe campus crime prevention.

In 2009, 54 students per 1,000 at the University of Oregon were referred for disciplinary action because of alcohol violations, and 13 students per 1,000 were referred for drug use. The university enrolled 22,335 students in 2009. There were a total of 1,518 drug or alcohol referrals that year.

Half of the other schools with liquor violations in their records reported fewer than five violations per 1,000 students.

The University of Oregon data don’t shock some students.

“It’s really not that surprising,” said student Sean Roney, a junior. “University of Oregon is a great party school; we have good sports teams, and drinking is a big thing associated with that.”

Paul Shang, the university’s assistant vice president and dean of students, said he doesn’t believe the University of Oregon has a crazier party atmosphere than other colleges.

“We understand that some students are going to drink or use other substances — they are going to do it anywhere,” Shang said. “At an administrative level, we believe our role is to educate students on the risks associated with those behaviors and provide disciplinary action when necessary.”

When suspected of violating the campus code of conduct, University of Oregon students can be cited for such infractions as being a minor in possession of alcohol, and such a case would be heard in Eugene Municipal Court. But that’s very rare. Instead, much more commonly, the case is handled internally by the University of Oregon in a process called a “referral,” and the student is required to attend a hearing in front of a university official — a much less severe discipline.

At the University of Oregon, students can be referred for breaking several rules related to drugs and alcohol on campus. The disciplinary process does not extend to off-campus activities.

Paul Shang, Ph.D

Paul Shang, Ph.D

The rules dictate that those under the age of 21 may not possess or consume alcohol on campus. Those 21 or older may not drink alcohol on school property or during school activities, except when the University of Oregon authorizes the use of substances at set times and venues. One approved space for students of age to drink in is their own private dorm room. Students 21 and over can be referred for furnishing alcohol to minors.

The use of nonalcoholic drugs is strictly prohibited by the University of Oregon code.

When students are referred for allegedly breaking the code of conduct, they are sent a notice of allegation, and then have 14 calendar days to arrange a hearing.

During the hearing, a housing official or conduct counselor talks with the student about the alleged violation, decides if it’s true and levies the penalty.

For those found in violation, the consequences can be relatively minor: First-time offenders may pay a standard fine of $30 and be required to take an online class offered through the university’s counseling office on the topic of drinking responsibly.

The conduct code violation process “isn’t about punishment,” said Carl Yeh, director of student conduct and community standards. “It is an educational moment. We encourage students to ask themselves why they made the choice they did. We try to teach the student.”

Captain Ed Rinne of the university’s Department of Public Safety said he suspects the University of Oregon’s high ranking on drug and alcohol referrals has more to do with the department’s aggressive approach to combating violations than with an out-of-control student body.

“Statistics can be a little bit deceiving,” Rinne said. “You can take one campus police force that is very proactive and compare their numbers to a staff that isn’t. One department is going to have a lot higher statistics because they are being proactive about enforcement.”

Roney, the University of Oregon junior, doesn’t doubt that officials at the University of Oregon take a proactive approach. He said when he was living in the dorms as a freshman, he once threw a beer can into his recycling bin and forgot to take it out before leaving for winter break.

Even though it was empty, under the student code of conduct, any kind of alcoholic beverage bottle or can, even if it is empty, can be a violation for a student under 21. During a routine room inspection, a housing official found the empty container and referred Roney for disciplinary action.

“I couldn’t believe I got in trouble for that,” he said. “You’d think they would have looked past something so small.”

Roney said he wasn’t required to do anything beyond meeting with his residence hall director.

“It’s not really that big of a deal,” junior Michael Glazier said about the risk of violation referrals. “No one is that scared of getting caught.”

Sophomore Danielle Kriz said the risk is so low that many students choose to violate the rules and drink in the dorms and around campus — which can be isolating for students such as herself who choose not to participate.

“Sometimes I feel left out, because when you party, you go out and you’re going to meet more people,” Kriz said.

Yeh said all college students make their own decisions about what activities they will participate in.

“Peer pressure can be hard for students,” Yeh said. “It manifests itself in strange ways. Sometimes it is as simple as a student feeling like they should drink because they are curious. When it comes down to it, students are responsible for what kind of experience they want to have at the UO.”