February 1, 2008
DALLAS (SMU) — In a report to SMU President R. Gerald Turner on January 31, SMU’s Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention offered 30 recommendations intended to strengthen programs of awareness, enforcement and assistance and to address related campus issues.
Read the Task Force Report
While noting that SMU’s existing programs are consistent with the best national practices, the Task Force calls for a “course correction.” Increased vigilance and proactive measures are especially important “as the University attracts higher-achieving students with expectations of a vigorous intellectual life on campus,” the report noted.
The report suggests additional steps that can be taken to foster an environment that encourages good decision-making, provides resources for prevention and assistance, offers positive alternatives for social life, emphasizes academic rigor, and maintains consistent and clearly understood policies.
“The Task Force recognizes that the national issue of substance abuse carries with it complexities that are beyond the influence of a single university, such as societal trends toward pre-college experimentation with drugs or alcohol, the availability of illegal substances in the surrounding community, the new freedoms and responsibilities inherent in college life, and students’ expectations that they will be treated as adults responsible for their own actions,” the report said. “Nevertheless, an individual institution must do all that is possible …to address substance abuse issues.”
The tragic deaths of three SMU students last year, “while neither the object of our review nor the subject of this report, constituted the main impetus for another comprehensive review of the University’s policies,” the report said. Although prevention and education programs are monitored and updated continually, the last comprehensive review of SMU’s policies was in 1996.
“For years SMU has maintained programs aimed at awareness, prevention, and assistance, and although students are ultimately responsible for their individual choices, it is time for us as a university community to re-examine our efforts,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner, who appointed the Task Force in June of 2007. “The Task Force has met its charge through careful study and a report that contains comprehensive recommendations. I thank them for their diligence in examining a complex issue that is challenging institutions across the nation.
“Our intention all along has been to make our report public after the SMU community was able to review it and offer input, but premature media reports based on unofficial and incomplete information have altered our plans for further review before making the document public.”
President Turner said he will now assign the recommendations by category to the appropriate University vice presidents for them to evaluate. They will advise him on which recommendations can be adopted, which might require alteration or more study, and which would not be feasible. He expects to announce his decision by the end of the spring semester.
“The Task Force does not believe that any single recommendation can be expected, by itself, to cause a noticeable difference,” the report said, but taken together, “all or a significant number can be effective in bringing about positive change.”
The Task Force report also cautioned against “sweeping generalizations about particular findings and recommendations” and expressed hope that “the conclusions and recommendations will be considered collectively as steps for improving an already-good institution and its community.”
To provide ongoing monitoring and updating of policies, the Task Force recommended the establishment of a President’s Commission on Substance Abuse Prevention, which will report annually or more frequently as needed. Composed of representatives from throughout campus, this group “will help ensure that this issue retains prominence in the collective consciousness of the community,” the report says.
Other recommendations focus on six key areas: health and medical services, enforcement, academic and social factors, communication, and parent partnerships.
The overarching theme of these recommendations is to support student safety, encourage responsible behavior, facilitate intervention, and address other campus issues related to substance abuse.
Health and Medical Services Recommendations
- Extending hours for the campus health center and initiating a medical hotline to answer questions and facilitate emergency care to students on campus.
- Revising alcohol and drug abuse education programs for students.
- Strengthening support services for recovering students.
- Ongoing review of campus judicial procedures.
- Implementing a Good Samaritan Policy and Medical Amnesty program to encourage students to get help for themselves and friends who need medical attention. The former applies to a student who seeks help for another student; the latter applies to a student who is self-reporting.
- Forming a campus group to meet and work with local restaurant and bar owners to prevent underage drinking and promotion of drinking games and other risky behavior.
- Strengthening campus drug enforcement by placing an SMU officer on the North Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, which brings together members from area police agencies. This representation would help SMU police in monitoring drug activity affecting the SMU area.
- Creating a central resource for gathering and acting on symptoms of student distress. This recommendation would help faculty and staff report on possible problems and enable the University to take appropriate steps to assist a troubled student.
These are intended to help make the SMU campus a hub of activity, bringing the social life of students back to campus in an effort to support both personal safety and responsible behavior through the following:
- Continuing activities at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center until 2 a.m., at least on weekends.
- Including campus ministries and faith-based organizations in the expansion of campus activities.
- Re-establishing a game/recreation room available to students until late at night.
- Emphasizing the use of other campus venues, like Dedman Center and Ford Stadium, for more student events.
- Encouraging student organizations to sponsor more late-night campus activities.
- Establishing a pub on campus that would serve snacks, meals and a beverage menu that includes wine and beer for students of legal drinking age, an effort that could provide a venue for responsible behavior and interaction between of-age students and faculty.
- Permitting organizations to sponsor parties and to serve beer on campus to those of drinking age, while requiring sponsoring organizations to hire servers and police officers.
- Requiring that all events associated with recruitment into Greek organizations be alcohol free.
- Discouraging all organized Greek organization parties – including the use of buses – on school nights.
- Appointing a panel to examine recruitment into Greek organizations, including timing, rules of contact and grade point average required for recruitment and pledging.
- Providing funding to support informal dinners and other social occasions for faculty members and students to interact outside the classroom.
Because the Task Force was charged with examining “the broader context” of factors that can have an impact on student behavior, the group made several recommendations in the area of academic life. These include:
- That class attendance be taken, a practice that can not only emphasize academic expectations, but can enable faculty members to note consistent absences, often a sign that a student is in trouble. Because college students are 18 and older, and expect to be treated as adults, formally taking attendance has not been routine in many college classes. At the same time, federal policies regarding privacy must be clearly communicated to faculty and staff, who may feel these policies prevent them from assisting students in distress.
- That every college and school at SMU hold a significant number of classes on Friday.
- That mid-term grade reports be extended to a student’s first two years, and that early reports be compiled for first-year students.
- That the number of courses that can be dropped be limited.
- That every lower-division course include a comprehensive final assessment (that is, an exam or project covering the entire semester’s material).
- That the curricula for courses necessitate that students spend at least two hours of outside work for every hour in the classroom.
- Creating a “handbook” to consolidate all information on relevant laws, campus regulations, consequences and resources dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.
- Developing a comprehensive communications plan to ensure every member of the SMU community hears pertinent messages related drug and alcohol issues.
- Clarifying federal privacy regulations as they apply to communication between SMU and parents regarding their students’ alcohol or drug problems.
- Avoiding images in campus communications and on SMU-branded products that seem to promote the use of alcohol, including items sold in the SMU Bookstore.
Partnerships with Parents
- That parents be asked to discuss federal privacy and medical information regulations (FERPA and HIPPA) with their students and encourage their sons and daughters to sign waivers allowing the University to contact parents.
- That SMU work with parents to identify students who are entering SMU with established substance abuse problems to get students started with counseling and recovery programs.
- That orientations programs include sessions in which parents and students talk together about drug and alcohol issues.
For more information on the charge to the Task Force and SMU’s existing programs aimed at substance abuse prevention, please visit www.smu.edu/liveresponsibly.
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