A proposed University of Wisconsin alcohol policy change, which was spurred in part by a university-funded party at the center of an Athletics Department investigation last year, was met with concerns about its effect on academic department gatherings at a Faculty Senate meeting Monday.
Faculty senators heard updates on the reviews of campus alcohol policy from Sarah Van Orman, the executive director of University Health Services and co-chair of the Chancellor’s Alcohol Policy Group.
The review of the current university alcohol policies, which recommends requiring a professional caterer at certain university events, comes as a response to the allegations of sexual assault and alcohol abuse by former Senior Associate Athletic Director John Chadima in 2012.
Chadima, who resigned after the investigation, hosted a party for students and staff who helped the football team, which was funded by the university and served alcohol to guests younger than 21. He was reported to have sexually assaulted a male student employee at the same party.
Van Orman said although the review was a response to an individual incident, the Athletic Department adopted a stricter alcohol policy prior to the current recommendations and the review is not focused on only one department.
“The number of anecdotal incidents that came out in our discussions made it very clear to us that this wasn’t just about Athletics,” Van Orman said.
Sara Goldrick-Rab, an educational policy studies and sociology professor, questioned the rationale of the policy.
“It seems that this is a response to a single incident from Athletics,” Goldrick-Rab said. “There are problems and cultural issues in athletics that do not exist in history department, sociology department…We should differentiate the set of rules.”
According to Van Orman, the new policy will limit alcohol permits to events that are shorter than two hours and have less than 50 attendees.
Under the recommended policy, alcohol distribution at events that do not meet these conditions would require professional caterers.
“If you have an event that is…more than a small informal gathering, the perspective of the committee is that alcohol for an official event should be controlled by someone professional,” Van Orman said.
Chemistry professor Judith Burstyn said the new policy poses challenges to gatherings in which the entire department participates.
Since the recommended policy requires that the departments pay for professional caterers, it imposes a different budgetary requirement without previous warning, she said.
John Sharpless, a history professor, said the rule would affect traditional events for departments.
“I think most departments across the campus have their traditional events and I’m concerned about the… challenge to this tradition,” Sharpless said. “I also worry that the draconian policy makes it nearly impossible for departments to have traditional events.”
Sharpless, a Herald advisor, then asked, “Is it a solution in search of a problem?” Faculty senators responded with applause.
Van Orman said the committee comes from the perspective of wanting to foster the safest environment possible and to create a policy frame that always ensures responsible and legal alcohol consumption at university events.
She also urged faculty members to think about the problem of alcohol abuse as more than an undergraduate issue. She said the institution needs to be exemplary in practices in order to have the moral ground to be more aggressive in addressing alcohol abuse, an issue she said is of utter importance to the entire community.
“We need to always do the right thing as an institution,” Van Orman said.
Jenna Nobles, a sociology professor, said her department is nationally known for its cohesiveness and their gatherings provide valuable opportunities for faculty and students.
She added the department already relies on faculty donations for traditional events and would be greatly affected if additional cost is required to hire professionals at these events.
The recommended policy also prevents graduate students from serving as responsible employees at university events that serve alcohol.