Southern Methodist University
The President's Task Force
on Substance Abuse Prevention
January 31, 2008
Substance abuse has been an issue of growing prominence on college campuses in recent years. Although the problem is not new, media reports, national statistics, and in some cases a tragic loss of life have led to a re-examination of related policies and practices at numerous colleges and universities across the nation. Whereas for previous generations of college students, alcohol abuse constituted by far the most prevalent substance abuse problem, in the current generation illegal drugs and misuse of prescription drugs have become increasingly problematic, both on college campuses and elsewhere.
SMU last conducted a comprehensive review, with outside consultants, of its existing policies and procedures regarding alcohol and drug use in 1996. Following that review, and based largely on the resulting recommendations, our policies and procedures were updated. Across the ensuing ten years policies and procedures were monitored and adjusted on an ongoing basis, and additional resources were put in place. In addition, comprehensive internal reviews have been undertaken on a biennial basis, as required by federal law.
During the 2006-2007 academic year three SMU students lost their lives in incidents that involved substance abuse. These tragic deaths, 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 and procedures regarding alcohol and drug use, along with related factors.
On June 11, 2007, SMU President R. Gerald Turner appointed a Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention to examine the University’s programs focused on education, prevention, enforcement and assistance related to drug and alcohol abuse. President Turner sent a letter to the SMU community announcing the appointment of the Task Force, explaining the reason, and outlining measures already in place at SMU. The letter reads:
June 11, 2007
Dear Member of the SMU Family:
Because you are an important part of the SMU community of alumni and friends, I want to share with you our concern over the deaths of three students this past year related to drug and alcohol use. With the families, we mourn the loss of these promising young people. We are moved by these tragedies to let you know what programs we maintain that are aimed at education, prevention, enforcement and assistance. At the same time, our grief and concern leads us to re-examine those programs in light of current trends and realities, which affect colleges and universities nationwide, but have hit our campus so dramatically and tragically this past year. Toward this end, I have appointed a Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention. Composed of students, faculty and staff, the Task Force will make recommendations to me by December 2007 for any program updates and enhancements that may be needed.
The reality in dealing with these issues is that to make an impact, it takes a partnership involving the institution, with its programs to educate, assist and enforce; parents, who can remain a tremendous influence on their students, even as they live away from home; and the students themselves, who must be open to heeding information about substance abuse and its consequences, and willing to make decisions in their own best interests. It does “take a village,” and we are all key inhabitants of this community of care.
In that spirit, I outline below our current programs and services. I hope that, as you interact with current and prospective parents, you will encourage their awareness of the dangers of substance abuse and of the resources offered to promote wise decision-making. If you have suggestions and perspectives you would like us to consider, please do not hesitate to let us know using the contact numbers below.
Again, please know that we remain committed to helping our students pursue their educational goals with good health and lifestyle habits, and will do all we can to support this goal.
R. Gerald Turner
[President Turner’s letter continues with the following]
Information on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention, Intervention and Education
- As outlined below, SMU offers extensive programs and resources offered to new and continuing students. These include discussions, films, on-line resources, required wellness courses, counseling, assessments, peer intervention and special training for leaders in residence halls and Greek houses, as well as faculty and staff.
SMU enforces its Student Code of Conduct and residence hall guidelines through its Judicial System, and those with drug policy violations are subject to drug testing.
The SMU Police Department enforces the laws regarding alcohol and drug use, as do police departments in nearby University Park, Highland Park and the city of Dallas if violations occur in those jurisdictions.
Programs of the SMU Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention:
The SMU Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention provides awareness and training programs, assessments, counseling, interventions and referrals. Its mission includes promoting activities and programs with student support to focus campus attention on alcohol and drug abuse.
The Center is in the process of hiring a full-time health educator, who will join two full-time licensed counselors on staff.
Education and Campus Awareness
The Center offers education about alcohol and other drugs, chemical dependency and substance abuse, including:
Orientation programs to incoming students and their parents during July and August. The programs include the award-winning film Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, which was produced after the alcohol-related death of an MIT freshman in 1997. Parents receive a copy of “What Should Parents Know About Alcohol and Drugs on Campus” and are mailed a list of campus health resources from the parent liaison.
AlcoholEdu, an online, science-based education course program, required for all new students.
The “Social Norms Campaign,” in partnership with the SMU Temerlin Advertising Institute, focusing on correcting student misperceptions about alcohol and drugs.
Wellness Choices I courses, required for all first-year students, which address alcohol and drug abuse prevention each semester.
- A program on Healthy Habits, which covers the topics of nutrition and alcohol.
Training and Peer Educators
The Center trains students, residential assistants, faculty and staff to help others who may have a substance abuse or dependency problem through programs including:
TIPS, or Training in Intervention Procedures, for student leaders in residence halls and Greek houses to assist in preventing alcohol misuse.
“Because I Care,” a drug-specific program the Center piloted this spring and will launch this fall to teach students the information and skills they need to intervene with peers who are using drugs.
Assessment and Intervention
- By working with friends, family, faculty and staff, the Center assesses student problems with alcohol and other drugs and provides access to appropriate help, including online screening programs such as E-Chug and E-Toke and on-campus substance abuse prevention classes.
Counseling, Referrals and Support
The Center provides short-term counseling to students on substance-abuse issues and offers referrals for outside support and treatment when necessary. It supports self-help groups on campus and in the community, including Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups, and works with recovering students on relapse prevention and on re-entry to college after treatment.
The Center also is a member of the North Texas Consortium on Substance Abuse Prevention in Higher Education and the Alliance on Underage Drinking (ALOUD).
Important Contact Numbers:
- For personal assistance with alcohol or drug abuse problems, or to learn how you can help guide others, call 214-768-4021.
- For assistance with mental health issues, call 214-768-2277.
- To report imminent danger related to drug or alcohol abuse, call 911 immediately or the SMU Police Department at 214-768-3333.
- Learn more at
smu.edu/healthcenter/alcoholeducation and at
Charge to the Task Force:
- Review the University’s alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs and services to determine if modifications or additions are needed to strengthen SMU’s efforts.
- Examine University policies and practices that may have an impact on student behavior outside of class, such as academic scheduling, attendance policies, and regulations governing campus and Greek housing.
- Consider the broader context of external forces to the University that can influence student behavior, such as habits developed pre-college, social norms, the surrounding environs and national trends in substance abuse.
The Task Force held its first meeting on June 12, 2007, and met as a full group thirteen additional times, with the final meeting on December 14, 2007.
Task Force membership
Task Force members, following two early replacements, were:
Dee Siscoe, Student Life (co-chair)
Thomas Tunks, Office of the Provost (co-chair)
Josh Camp, Interfraternity Council
Daniel Liu, Student Affairs Committee, SMU Board of Trustees
Lauren Powell, Panhellenic Association
Sherri Taylor, Mustang Corral
Katherine Tullos, SMU student body
Patricia Alvey, Temerlin Advertising Institute, Meadows School
Dennis Foster, English Department, Dedman College
Gary Moskowitz, Cox School
Dennis Simon, Political Science Department, Dedman College
Laura Steinberg, Environmental and Civil Engineering Department
John Kalb, Institutional Research
Patti LaSalle, Public Affairs
Jennifer Post, Residence Life and Student Housing
John Sanger, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention
Rick Shafer, SMU Police Department
Anthony Tillman, Enrollment Services (Retention and Planning)
SMU Board of Trustees
Jeanne Tower Cox, SMU trustee, alumna, parent
The Task Force used many avenues and methods to assess the appropriateness and effectiveness of SMU’s policies, education efforts, enforcement methods, recovery programs, and its messages and delivery of those messages.
Initially, the Task Force gathered volumes of data, reports, editorials, and personal accounts from sources and experts across the country. It investigated national trends and norms, policies and education programs at similar and dissimilar universities. In addition the Task Force invited a national expert on this issue to visit SMU and conduct an assessment alongside the Task Force’s own inquiries. That consultant interviewed staff and university officials. Simultaneously, the Task Force methodically sought input from all SMU constituent groups: parents, faculty, students, health care staff, residence life staff, alumni, leaders of the Greek community, chaplains, students of the Greek community, students at large, graduate students, and minority students. Using a combination of group interviews, focus groups, student research, town hall meetings and solicited online comments (http://blog.smu.edu/liveresponsibly/2007/09/comments.html), the Task Force collected wide ranging first-hand accounts and opinions from all facets of SMU’s community.
Research included a rigorous focus-group study commissioned by the Task Force to learn more about the awareness of policies and campus culture as it relates to substance abuse and to possible new preventive measures from many points of view. It was the Task Force’s intention that this systematically-gathered set of perspectives and opinions would strengthen the overall assessments. The study consisted of thirteen focus groups conducted on campus but facilitated and evaluated by a social scientist who conducts qualitative interviews across the country. His findings are incorporated into the summary of research findings below.
SMU is a strong university with a solid and growing academic reputation. Overall, we have a fine faculty and staff, good students, successful programs (some of which are recognized nationally and internationally), effective organization, a very good and improving financial base, and strong leadership. In other words, we are starting from a position of strength. Task Force findings lead to the conclusion that changes are in order, but change in the sense of marked course correction rather than a complete turnaround. Some readers may be tempted to make sweeping generalizations about particular findings and recommendations, as has been exhibited in recent months. The Task Force hopes that temptation will be avoided, and that the conclusions and recommendations will be considered collectively as steps for improving an already-good institution and its community.
SMU has had in place for many years a variety of policies and programs related to substance abuse prevention. Our current policies and procedures are, in general, consistent both with recommendations of recognized reports on the topic by state and national organizations and with accepted practices at other universities. Even so, SMU must be particularly vigilant in achieving an appropriate balance between “social achievement” and academic achievement, especially as SMU seeks, and is becoming more attractive to, students who are committed to pursuing a vigorous academic life. Some students who value social achievement above academics would seem to be particularly susceptible to various degrees of substance abuse, and their behavioral tendencies undermine the prevention measures in place.
The Task Force saw reports that many substance abusers on college campuses developed their habits before entering higher education. This seems to be the case at SMU as well, a finding that does not, however, diminish the extent of SMU’s responsibility for prevention and assistance efforts. Task Force findings indicate that in most ways, SMU is very much like other schools across the country that are experiencing the same issues. SMU is different, however, in some keys areas that contribute to the problem. Recommendations speak directly to an attempt to affect those areas.
First, relative to our benchmark schools, fewer of our students are employed in addition to attending classes, and more of them appear to have higher levels of disposable income. Both of these factors contribute to heightened opportunities for social activities that may involve, in particular, alcohol abuse and underage drinking. In addition, SMU has a substantial number of Greek-affiliated students (about 40 percent of undergraduates), with an accompanying larger population concerned with the social achievements required for gaining acceptance into those programs.
Second, SMU lacks communal gathering spaces and on-campus social activities as alternatives to off-campus parties.
Third, SMU must increase the academic rigor expected of students at a university that is committed to growing in quality and creating a more vibrant community of learners. A lack of Friday classes in some academic units of the University in essence creates a four-day school week and three-day weekend for some students.
The Task Force concludes, on the most general level, that a culture shift is needed at this point in the University’s history. Such a culture shift would involve two separate but closely related dimensions: social and academic. Changes in either dimension will affect the other.
Socially, the University needs to shift from a culture characterized by isolated individuals and disparate subgroups (such as Greeks/non-Greeks, resident students/commuters, higher-income students/lower-income students) and more toward a broader sense of community. The latter would be characterized by a commitment to help a fellow student gain medical assistance if he/she is at risk because of substance abuse. It would be characterized by a campus that is an inviting, comfortable, interesting place to be, day or night, and by a realization that it is possible to “have a great time” and still be responsible.
Academically, the culture shift would be characterized by greater numbers of challenging courses necessitating significant time spent on out-of-class preparation and requirements. It would include awareness among more professors of which students are consistently present or chronically absent, and an understanding among students that there will be consequences for the latter. In addition, there would be tighter restrictions upon the number of classes that can be dropped or re-taken, encouraging students to “get it right the first time.” The academic week would consist of five or more days, and at semester’s end more faculty members would require comprehensive final exams or projects during the designated week after classes, resulting in a greater focus on the academic experience.
If a culture shift is to be achieved, it will take a combined effort from all parts of the University and the surrounding community. Students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, administrators and area businesses must all be encouraged, challenged, and expected to take ownership of this issue.
The Task Force also concludes that there are three substance groups being abused by some students at SMU, and all three merit attention. They are alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription drugs. There is also substantial evidence of these being used in combination. By far the most easily noticed abuse is of alcohol, but to focus solely on alcohol in informational, educational, and enforcement efforts would be a mistake. There is significant enough abuse of illegal and prescription drugs for these to be focus of attention as well. Especially in the case of illegal drugs, a focus on suppliers, in cooperation with area law enforcement agencies, is warranted.
Enforcement policies established by the University, although well intentioned, have combined to create a culture in which students are reluctant to help friends in a time of need. The lack of two nationally accepted policies (Good Samaritan & Medical Amnesty), combined with the existence of SMU’s passive participation policy, have discouraged students from getting involved with helping other students in trouble. Students overwhelmingly reported “fear of getting in trouble” or “fear of getting my friend in trouble” as the reason they would refrain from stepping in to help or to get help for a fellow student in a time of need. Task Force members found this to be one of the most alarming findings.
In addition, we have noted a wide-spread sense throughout the SMU community that our policies and practices are inconsistent at best, contradictory at worst. Consistency in our messages to students and other members of the University community is essential. Consistency between the policies created and enforced by all areas of the University are essential. Examples of mixed or confusing messages that emerged related not only to verbal messages, but also to practices. Alcohol is allowed in some venues on campus but not in others. Some people contend that this is a “dry” campus, but only at some times and in some places. The “Boulevard” is an example of this. The “passive participation” rule applies in residence halls but is believed by some to apply everywhere on campus, leading some students to perceive an intrusive and inappropriate power in every figure of authority. Numerous commercial advertisements appear in the
Daily Campus promoting happy hour specials: “drink till you drop” nights, “eighteen and older” offers, and other enticements to off-campus, alcohol-related fun. Although it is a separate corporate entity, the Daily Campus is perceived to be the University’s newspaper and to present University-approved items. Also, faculty and some staff members are cautioned in numerous places to respect FERPA and HIPPA regulations, but the cautions leave most readers unclear as to the limits of the restrictions, even when they observe indicators of substance abuse. For the most part, faculty and staff members believe they are prevented from saying or doing anything. They may not be aware that a strong intellectual community is a part of the solution that they are extraordinarily prepared to support.
Consistency and clarity in the messages produced by SMU are crucial to the existing University community, and to the surrounding community, and prospective students and families. Numerous groups on campus engage in some form of education or communication intended to solve at least a part of the problem. Almost none of these groups have expertise in creating strategic message campaigns.
After many hours of consideration of these findings and discussion of all suggestions received by the Task Force, we have assembled the recommendations described in the following sections. We ask that readers review the report in its entirety with a holistic view of a campus united to address these critical issues. If we all are willing to embrace the tradition of excellence we hold dear, while making a commitment to the social and academic growth of our community, and our messages on the topic communicate enforcement measures clearly, the members of the Task Force believe we will eventually see significant movement toward wise social and academic decision-making.
The specific recommendations that follow are intended to initiate an overall culture shift at SMU, to continue and strengthen substance abuse education and prevention efforts, and to help address potential emerging situations regarding substance abuse. The Task Force does not believe that any single recommendation can be expected, by itself, either to cause a noticeable difference in the prevailing culture if implemented or to keep a culture change from happening if not implemented. All, or a significant number of them taken together, however, can be effective in bringing about positive change. A culture change of the sort in question here is not likely to be immediate, but will probably take at least a student generation of four or five years. The Task Force achieved widespread agreement on these recommendations, although there was not unanimous support for all of them.
In discussions concerning culture and community at SMU, the Task Force considered the recommendation of an earlier group (the Honors Programming Task Force, 2007) that SMU move toward a “residential college” or similar structure. We do not include in this report specific recommendations about residential colleges, learning communities, freshman interest groups, or other “affinity group” structures because they are not directly related to substance abuse or its prevention. However, in a more general sense, there is widespread support for the idea that the establishment of one or more of this kind of affinity group would support the kind of culture shift at SMU that we propose.
The recommendations reflect, in great measure, practices currently in place at some of the numerous institutions surveyed by the Task Force, including SMU. Nonetheless, we are aware that the way a policy or practice is implemented, or whether it is implemented at all, must depend on our own unique context. We therefore present the recommendations with the understanding that their adoption and implementation must be guided by consultation with appropriate University entities.
Following a single general recommendation, the recommendations are presented in six groups: Health and Medical Services, Enforcement, Academic, Social and Cultural, Communication, and Parent Partnership. Although the groups of recommendations carry different levels of involvement from the various University constituencies, the whole University community should be expected to demonstrate active support for all recommendations that are finally adopted. Further, strong and vocal support from all levels of administration will be imperative.
Recommendation: The Task Force recommends the establishment of an ongoing President’s Commission on Substance Abuse Prevention. Members of this commission would be appointed by the President and include representation from a wide variety of campus entities, including but not limited to the Student Senate, the Faculty Senate, the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council, Student Affairs, Office of the Provost, Campus Ministries, the Health Center, Enrollment Services, Legal Affairs, SMU Police, Public Affairs, alumni, and parents. On a continuing basis, the commission would monitor implementation of adopted recommendations as well as the effectiveness of SMU policies and practices with respect to substance abuse and its prevention. The commission would also monitor practices at other institutions and stay abreast of trends and promising ideas for fostering the campus culture we wish to achieve and maintain. The commission would not be expected to implement the recommendations but would, instead, recommend implementation by appropriate campus entities. The commission would report progress and recommendations to the President on an annual basis, with interim reports if needed.
Rationale: Continuous awareness and involvement on the part of a broad spectrum of the campus community will be important in implementing and monitoring the multifaceted approach we recommend. No single entity can, or should be expected to, address this effort on its own. However, it will be important for each part of campus to recognize its own role in contributing to both problems and solutions and not assume that responsibility rests entirely with others. An ongoing monitoring and reporting group will help ensure that this issue retains prominence in the collective consciousness of the community.
Health and Medical Services Recommendations
H1) Recommendation: Expand on-campus health services to include extended hours for the Memorial Health Center, making available after-hours nursing/medical staff, and arranging for after-hours on-call physicians. We also strongly recommend initiating a medical hotline to answer SMU students' immediate medical questions and facilitate emergency medical care.
Rationale: The Memorial Health Center currently offers medical services only on weekdays during regular business hours (8:30 A.M. -5:00 P.M.), like most outpatient physician's offices. Emergency cases are sent via ambulance to area hospital emergency rooms. The Health Center's Nurse Advice Line (214-768- 3194) is an answering machine, and messages are returned as soon as time allows.
Students frequently expressed their concern about the lack of emergency medical services available on campus, as well as their reluctance to call 911 for fear of “getting in trouble” or getting the SMU Police involved. Many years ago, the Health Center was open 24/7 and students in need of medical care could come to the Health Center at any time to be evaluated, triaged, treated, monitored or referred. The current budget, staffing and physical facilities do not allow for this level of service. Currently, area clinics provide some urgent care services and have some evening and weekend hours, but only area hospitals provide 24/7 emergency care.
Emergency medical services are readily available within a few minutes of campus at the present time, but are not within walking distance. Paramedics are usually on-site within 3-5 minutes of a 911 call to provide transport to the emergency room. However, the lack of an after-hours facility on campus means that students do not always get the care they need for the reasons stated above.
H2) Recommendation: that SMU continue to educate SMU students through programs like TIPS and Because I Care, but also to replace AlcoholEdu (once that contract expires) with another educational program. Students should be involved in the evaluation and selection of a replacement for AlcoholEdu, and SMU should monitor best practices to find the most effective educational vehicles in the area of alcohol and drug abuse prevention.
Rationale: the AlcoholEdu online course required for incoming first-year students and used as an educational sanction for alcohol policy violations is widely disliked and dismissed by students, undermining this educational program. SMU has begun to use several promising programs including TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) and 'Because I Care.” SMU should look for other programs that emphasize personal interaction and hands-on training.
H3) Recommendation: that SMU work with existing groups of recovering students and the community to develop and improve support services for recovering students. This might include the development of specific recovery housing and programs and the expansion of campus 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Texas Tech, Augsburg University, Colorado State University, and other schools have successful programs that could be used as models.
Rationale: Although SMU's Center for Alcohol & Drug Abuse Prevention offers relapse prevention counseling for students in recovery, and SMU offers substance-free housing, many recovering SMU students consider SMU to be a very high-risk environment for students struggling with addiction. This recommendation should be accompanied by a general evaluation of the SMU environment toward making SMU more “recovery friendly.”
One of the most persistent comments from students and parents was that SMU’s enforcement of alcohol policies was unreasonable. They complained that police were overly intrusive and too quick to stop and question the moderate or non-drinking student; that “passive participation” interfered with normal social life and left the non-drinkers with nowhere to go; that attempts to help friends in distress from excessive consumption were met with violations and punishment. While the Task Force believes that the complaints were exaggerated and often based on a misunderstanding of the rules, the complaints were too consistent for us to dismiss the cumulative effect of these perceptions: students were angry, tended to avoid and evade police, and neglected their duty to help friends. Part of the solutions proposed below involve changes in, and serious review of, policies. However, it is expected that the SMU Police Department will continue vigorously to enforce all laws and policies, and officers will investigate any potential violation so long as they have probable cause or reasonable suspicion. At the same time, all parts of the University must be reminded that our collective responsibility and focus—from students to faculty to police—will be to ensure the safety and well-being of students. Students should be assured that no person will be subject to investigation without just cause, and that officers will always consider the totality of the circumstances of each situation.
E1) Recommendation: that we eliminate the Passive Participation Policy from the Residence Life and Student Housing Community Standards.
Rationale: While The Task Force recognizes that this policy is in place to encourage students to hold each other accountable and remove themselves from situations where students are violating policies, that goal is not being met. Students and their parents do not believe that this policy encourages students to hold others accountable. Instead, they view the policy as punishment when no substance use or abuse has occurred. As a consequence, the policy has become self-defeating. It is our hope that by removing this policy, we will be able to clarify our commitment to the safety of students.
E2) Recommendation: that SMU charge the Judicial Affairs Office with on going review of judicial procedures.
Rationale: The Task Force affirms the policies outlined in the Student Code of Conduct on Alcohol (3.01) and Drugs (3.06), which prohibit use, sale, distribution, possession or manufacturing of illegal substances. However, many students see the judicial procedures and sanctions as arbitrary, unfair, excessive, overly mild, or in some other way ineffective as a disciplinary or educational tool. Consequently, we recommend that the Judicial Affairs Office continually review the judicial procedures to ensure that they are educational and that sanctions are consistent and proportional to the violations. Currently, the process outlines a 4 strike policy for alcohol violations and immediate suspension for drug violations (with the exception of drug paraphernalia and small amounts of marijuana). Judicial affairs should review this policy and consider policies including parental notification on serious first violations and community service (because fines mean little to some students). In keeping the focus on safety, Judicial Affairs should strive to work in partnership with parents when feasible.
E3) Recommendation: that SMU implement a Good Samaritan Policy
Rationale: The Task Force wants to encourage students to get help for friends who are in medical danger. Students should not hesitate to call for assistance because they are afraid of getting into trouble themselves. The Appendix includes examples of Good Samaritan Policies from other institutions. We recommend that these examples be used to craft a policy for SMU. Amnesty under the Good Samaritan Policy would not eliminate the possibility of involved students being called in for conversations with a Judicial Affairs officer or being required to engage in education programs concerning alcohol and drugs.
E4) Recommendation: that SMU implement a Medical Amnesty program
Rationale: Like the Good Samaritan Policy, the Task Force wants to encourage students to get help for their friends who are in trouble. Where the Good Samaritan Policy would affect students who call for assistance when their friend is in danger, the Medical Amnesty policy focuses on the student who needs medical attention. Students should not hesitate to call for assistance because they are afraid that they or their friends will get in trouble. Included in the appendices of this report are examples of Medical Amnesty Policies from other institutions. We recommend that these be used to craft a policy for SMU. We believe students who receive Medical Amnesty still need education and monitoring to ensure the student’s health and well being.
E5) Recommendation: that a group be formed to meet with and work with local restaurant and bar owners. The group would consist of representatives from the Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, the Dean of Student Life Office, SMU PD, TABC (Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission), Risk Management, Greek Life, Legal Affairs, etc. The group would work closely to outline problems and issues and then work collaboratively with area businesses to address those issues in order to prevent underage drinking, marketing and the promotion of drinking games, and other risky behavior.
Rationale: SMU does not exist in a bubble. We must create strong partnerships with the surrounding community to create a better environment for our students.
E6) Recommendation: that SMU Police strengthen drug enforcement efforts by partnering with University Park Police Department and placing an officer on the North Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force.
Rationale: This task force covers the North Texas area and has members from police agencies from the area. The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) oversees the group and provides support and training to members. Our assigned officer would be involved daily with drug enforcement in the area and would concentrate on drug issues that directly affect the SMU area. The sole mission of this group is to combat illegal drugs in our area.
E7) Recommendation: that SMU support a central resource for gathering and acting upon reports of students exhibiting signs of distress.
Rationale: One of the lessons of the Virginia Tech shootings last year is that despite numerous reports of a student’s being in distress, a University is unlikely to respond unless the information is collected in one place so the behavior pattern can be recognized. At SMU last year, we know that people were aware that the students who died were in some trouble, but no critical mass of information reached anyone charged with responding. Keeping the campus community informed about “connect-the-dots” mechanisms may help SMU to intervene in dangerous situations. Mechanisms currently in place include:
- Dean of Student Life Office- Coordinates student concerns received from faculty, staff and/or students. Conducts intake assessments and facilitates mandated mental health evaluations. See the brochure that is available on this procedure:
www.smu.edu/studentlife, Recognizing Students in Distress.
- CREW- Weekly meeting of professional staff (RLSH, SMU PD, Judicial Affairs, Parent Programs, Greek Affairs, Student Senate, Counseling Center, Drug and Alcohol Center, etc.) that review incidents or behavior of concern.
- Students of Concern- Committee comprised of a member from each of the following groups: faculty, Risk Management, Counseling and Psychiatric Services, Provost Office, International Students, SMU PD, Judicial Affairs, Residence Life and Student Affairs. The group gathers information about students of concern and provides strategies for working with those students.
- Troubled Students Committee- New group formed by the Vice President for Student Affairs that reviews concerns about troubled students and assesses risk associated with those students.
Information from these sources should be centralized in one place; the SMU community should be educated about this resource and how it can be used to help prevent dangerous incidents.
Task Force research has shown that students perceive, with some truth, that teachers are unaware of most of their students’ lives beyond the classroom. Students who miss classes or exhibit signs of distress may not elicit a reaction from their professors, who often misinterpret FERPA and other privacy considerations and assume that there is little they can do to intervene. Some students explicitly challenge the priority of academics that faculty presume. Many students assume as a matter of course that going to parties three or more nights a week will not diminish their education. For those students who do place academics first, this environment undermines their academic pursuits and leads some of the best to transfer.
Task Force recommendations are part of an overall strategy to reorient students toward the academic and cultural life of the University while diminishing the troubling dimensions of social life at SMU.
There are six policy changes that the Task Force recommends be enacted by the appropriate academic units:
A1) Recommendation: that every undergraduate class have a stated attendance policy and that attendance be taken.
Rationale: An attendance policy tells students that teachers believe that what goes on in each class is sufficiently important to insist that students attend. The corollaries to this policy are that classes must exceed what a student might gather from simply reading the text and that there are real intellectual consequences to missing classes. In addition, by taking attendance, faculty members have a chance to notice, even in large classes, when a student may be in trouble. If faculty members enlist the aid of the Office of Student Life to follow up consistently on students who miss class, SMU may be able to intervene and prevent a deterioration of the situation.
A2) Recommendation: that every college and school hold a significant number of classes on Friday mornings. Specifically, the Task Force recommends that as many sections as possible of ACCT 2311 and 2312 be offered on a WF schedule.
Rationale: It has been widely noticed that for students beyond the first year, SMU makes it possible to take classes only four days a week. A five-day schedule tells students that faculty members expect students to devote five days to their academic pursuits. In particular, it conveys that Thursday night should be used for study and that students should be prepared to attend classes the next morning. The two Accounting courses have the virtue of being taken by most business majors during their sophomore year, thereby extending to two years the time a significant number of students are likely to have Friday classes in their schedules.
A3) Recommendation: that the current practice of asking for mid-term grade reports be extended to cover students’ first two years and that early reports be requested for first-year students. Greater faculty participation in reporting must be encouraged.
Rationale: Less experienced students need to be reminded early in each semester that they are expected to keep up with their classes, and that the faculty is paying attention. In addition, early grading can expose serious problems while intervention might still be effective.
A4) Recommendation: that the drop policy continue to allow students to drop a class at any time through week 10 of each semester, but that we limit the number of career drops allowed for each student. Exceptions for special circumstances can be accommodated, for instance, when a student must withdraw from several classes to change majors.
Rationale: The current policy allows an unlimited number of withdrawals. As a consequence, students frequently finish a semester taking fewer than 15 hours. Too liberal a drop policy can discourage students from making academics their first priority and enables them to drop those courses that are the most demanding.
A5) Recommendation: that final comprehensive assessments be given during the designated exam period for every lower-division course.
Rationale: Current policy requires final exams to be held in the time and place assigned by the registrar for all classes for which they are appropriate. Many instructors seem to regard final, comprehensive exams as not appropriate, but do give a last exam during the final week of class. As a consequence, students are not required to be responsible for the entire material of the semester. A more rigorous policy would require students to think comprehensively about their courses. As a secondary effect, students would have less free time during finals week for social occasions.
A6) Recommendation: that course curricula be revised as necessary to ensure that most students will spend at least 2 hours in outside work for each hour spent in the classroom.
Rationale: Courses without a serious amount of homework help to foster an atmosphere in which academic pursuits are secondary to social activities for many students. As part of the re-orientation of SMU toward increased academic rigor, this policy will provide a greater emphasis on learning and will encourage further engagement in academic life for both faculty and students.
A change in the academic culture will help to emphasize the link between academic rigor and personal responsibility. The goal is for students to understand, correctly, that faculty members are seriously concerned with their well-being.
Task Force recommendations flow from hours of discussion with members of the University community. These discussions were held with representatives of numerous organizations who attended the meetings of the Task Force. In addition, the Task Force has a comprehensive report on discussions within thirteen focus groups that represent important constituencies in the campus community. From the information obtained, it is clear that the social culture of undergraduates at SMU has four distinguishing characteristics. First, “social life” is seen as distinct from “academic life.” In fact, there is a wide chasm between the two. Second, social life is synonymous with weekends and weekends begin on Thursdays. Numerous events, ranging from “bus parties” to “sorority formals”, are scheduled on Thursday nights. Third, the SMU campus is not the primary venue for social activity. One of the most repeated observations within the focus groups is that when the “sun goes down” on weekends, the campus is “dead.” Complaints about the lack of campus activity were especially prominent among non-Greek-affiliated students, minority students, and international students. Fourth, social life often takes students to venues that are potentially unsafe and encourage irresponsible and excessive behavior. The following recommendations reflect the obvious need to change this culture:
S1) Recommendation: that SMU make a concerted and coordinated effort to make the campus a hub of activity to bring the social life of students back to campus. The objective of these recommendations is to make the campus conducive to gathering with friends in a safe environment.
This broad recommendation is a product of widespread agreement among members of the Task Force and includes the following specific recommendations:
(a) Continue activities at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center until 2:00 AM, at least on weekends. Make Hughes-Trigg and other areas genuine gathering places for students, faculty, and staff. Hughes-Trigg or some other venue should become a true student union, not primarily a place for administrative offices and meeting rooms.
(b) Include the campus ministries and faith-based organizations in the expansion of activity on campus.
(c) Re-establish, within or close to Hughes-Trigg, a game/recreation room that would be available to students until late at night.
(d) Emphasize use of other campus venues – Meadows, Dedman Center, Ford Stadium, the Boulevard – for late-night events on the weekends. There are numerous possibilities – flag football games sponsored by student organizations “under the lights” at Ford Stadium; basketball games, climbing competitions, and all-night Dance Marathons at Dedman Center; midnight movies on the Quad; and musical and improvisational events at Meadows.
(e) Encourage all student organizations to sponsor more late-night, on-campus events on weekends.
(f) Establish a pub on campus. This pub would serve a variety of snacks,
and, in conformity with applicable laws, a beverage menu that includes beer
and wine for those of drinking age. Rice University provides a model for the operation of such a pub.
(g) Permit organizations to sponsor parties and to serve beer on campus to those of drinking age. Such on-campus parties would require the approval of the Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Student Life. Parties would be limited to Friday and Saturday Nights, based upon the University of Southern California model. Sponsoring organizations would be responsible for hiring bartenders and the requisite number of police officers. Sponsoring organizations would be held responsible for compliance with policy, and violations would result in sanctions, including suspension of this privilege, against the offending organization.
(h) Increase lighting on campus. For campus night life to be inviting the campus must feel, especially to female students, like a safe place to be after dark.
Rationale: There are two reasons for these recommendations. First is the lack of “social options” on campus, particularly during weekends. Second, participants in the focus groups also emphasized that current policies regulating alcohol on campus have the perverse effect of encouraging “binge drinking” and “chasing students off campus” into venues and locales that are potentially unsafe. Our recommendations are designed, therefore, to connect students to University life and to provide an attractive, safe, and responsible alternative to off-campus social activities. A secondary benefit of having a pub on campus would be to break down the division between social and academic life on campus by providing a place where students and faculty can mingle outside the classroom (see S5 below).
S2) Recommendation: that all events associated with recruitment into Greek organizations (“rush” as well as the “pledge period”) be alcohol-free, including University-sponsored activities and those sponsored by the organizations themselves, such as off-campus weekend events. Where violations of this standard occur, sanctions should be placed on the offending organization.
Rationale: A substantial portion of the off-campus activities are sponsored by Greek organizations, including many associated with the recruitment of new members. Requiring that recruitment activities be alcohol-free would reduce the incidence of underage drinking.
S3) Recommendation: that the officers of the Intra-Fraternity and Panhellenic Councils, as well as the leaders of the individual Greek organizations, discourage all organized parties, including the use of buses, on school nights. All off-campus parties must be registered with the Dean of Student Life.
Rationale: This recommendation is designed to complement the academic recommendations, especially the recommendation to increase the number of classes on Fridays.
S4) Recommendation: that SMU appoint a panel to examine recruitment into Greek organizations and to make recommendations to the University administration. During Task Force deliberations, there was considerable discussion about the timing of recruitment. Some members spoke to the benefits that may be associated with moving recruitment to Fall Break with initiation occurring before school starts for the spring semester; others emphasized the beneficial impact of moving recruitment to the beginning of the sophomore year; still others emphasized the recent work of the University Ad Hoc Committee that recommended keeping recruitment at the beginning of the spring semester. Resolving these issues was seen as beyond the scope of the Task Force. Thus, the Task Force recommends a re-examination of Greek recruitment in light of (1) the recommendations of this Task Force and (2) the recommendations of the President’s Task Force on the Honors Community at SMU. This review should include all aspects of the process: the timing of recruitment during the academic year, the length of the “pledge period,” the time commitment imposed on active members of Greek organizations, the rules of contact and both the minimum grade point average and hours completed that are required to qualify for recruitment and pledging.
Rationale: The charge to the Task Force required that it examine “University policies and practices that may have an impact on student behavior outside of class.” Information-gathering, interviews, and discussions leave little doubt that the annual process of recruitment contributes to the excesses in the social culture both on and off campus. The Task Force recognizes that Greek leadership must be a real force in changing the SMU campus culture. Members of the Task Force expressed a hope that all fraternities and sororities will emphasize their roots of service, philanthropy, personal responsibility, scholarship, leadership, and the animating values of brotherhood and sisterhood. While recognizing that Greek organizations provide students with a vehicle for connecting to the University and to each other, SMU should offer the same degree of connectivity for non-Greek students.
S5) Recommendation: that funding be provided to support informal dinners and other social occasions for faculty members and students to interact outside of the classroom.
Rationale: This is designed to reduce the perceived distance between students and faculty outside of the classroom. It is also intended to help dissolve the artificial distinction between social and intellectual activity on campus.
Recommendation: that in order to ensure that relevant laws, campus regulations, consequences, and resources are clearly explained and adequately understood, SMU gather and assess all its materials dealing with alcohol and drug abuse and produce a simple, coherent, non-contradictory “handbook” for the entire community.
Rationale: Representatives of all segments of campus indicated confusion and/or lack of awareness because information on substance abuse is developed and distributed in a fragmented manner. A new print and on-line resource can be shared and discussed through AARO, Wellness classes, residence hall and Greek house meetings, Pan-Hellenic and Greek governing organizations, Student Government activities, Parent Leadership Council, Center for Teaching Effectiveness, Staff Association, Alumni Board, as well as through campus offices such as the Health Center, SMU Police, Chaplain's Office, and more. This resource also can be referenced in student recruitment marketing materials to send the message that SMU expects students to pursue high academic standards and to moderate their social behavior in accordance with established laws and campus regulations.
Recommendation: that SMU develop a comprehensive communication plan so that every member of the community hears SMU's messages related to good decision-making, behavioral expectations, regulations, available resources for assistance, and consequences.
Rationale: An articulate, well-conceived messaging plan should be promulgated through varied communications vehicles and venues, including an updated and consolidated web site. Although some students indicated that they “tune out” substance abuse education messages because “we've heard them all in high school,” SMU should certainly continue its education efforts. However, SMU will need to educate more frequently through direct, personal interactions, in addition to other communication efforts. Educational tools could include Gordie Foundation materials and the Proof Campaign. In the least, such efforts will confirm and clarify the kind of University culture SMU seeks to develop, one within which students can make responsible individual decisions.
Recommendation: that SMU clarify FERPA regulations as they would apply to communication between SMU and parents regarding their students’ alcohol or drug problems. Further, we recommend that students be encouraged to sign waivers permitting information to be shared with their parents. FERPA guidelines should be clearly and consistently communicated throughout the campus.
Rationale: A productive partnership with parents in dealing with substance abuse would help in emphasizing key messages, reinforcing awareness of resources, and increasing accountability. SMU wishes to partner with parents to encourage responsible decision making, and open communication with parents is essential to that goal. This would support the Task Force’s recommendations that SMU parents be notified of a student’s first offense if its severity warrants (see Partnership with Parents Recommendations below).
C4) Recommendation: that SMU avoid the use of images that seemingly promote alcohol use in its communications and products (such as merchandise). Examples would include posters by alcoholic beverage sponsors of athletic events, “drinking games” reportedly sold in the SMU Bookstore, and prominent, front-of-store displays of SMU-branded shot glasses in the Bookstore. Although the student newspaper enjoys freedom of press and is published by a corporation separate from the University, an effort should be made to meet with its leaders to ascertain its policy or guidelines on accepting advertisements for alcohol products and bars.
Rationale: These images and products convey not-so-subtle messages about SMU culture and values that work against creating a different social environment at the University.
C5) Recommendation: that President Turner and the upper administration of SMU remain involved in substance abuse prevention efforts through communications and interaction with parents, alumni, faculty, staff and student groups.
Rationale: Just as effecting change in any group or business requires a champion at the top of the organization, so does the development of a culture that contributes to an institution’s intellectual and physical health and reputation. SMU must be, and must become known as, a place where students take seriously their academic pursuits above all others. This visibility also will empower faculty and staff members in their efforts to guide students in making wise decisions.
Partnership with Parents Recommendations
Students at SMU are almost all over the age of eighteen, and are responsible for their actions. That does not mean that they are beyond needing the guidance, support, and discipline that parents can offer. Their ability to make “good choices” can be seriously compromised by social pressure, the effects of drugs and alcohol, illness, depression, and immaturity. A university, although not as unforgiving as the world beyond its walls, is a difficult, challenging, and occasionally dangerous place. For students fortunate enough to have parents to guide them, SMU must be committed to working in a partnership with those parents. To that end, the Task Force makes the following recommendations:
P1) Recommendation: that parents be encouraged to discuss FERPA and HIPPA rules with their students and encourage the students to sign waivers allowing the University to contact parents.
Rationale: The rules governing the disclosure of private information are evolving. In an attempt to avoid violating privacy laws, the University community is frequently cautioned to be aware of FERPA and HIPPA, with the unfortunate effect that most faculty members feel unable to speak to any parent about a problem concerning a student. Waivers will allow faculty and staff members to intervene earlier when a student is in distress.
P2) Recommendation: that SMU work with parents to identify students who are entering SMU with established problems with drugs and alcohol to get the students involved from the start with counseling and with recovery groups.
Rationale: Many of the students who end up most seriously damaged by drug and alcohol abuse arrive on campus with established problems. For those students, the environment on a college campus can overwhelm good intentions. In order to have the greatest effect in controlling the abuse of drugs and alcohol, the appropriate counselors at SMU need early information. In addition, early conversations about substance abuse with parents may help them to become aware of problems they had not yet fully recognized.
P3) Recommendation: that an AARO session be set aside to promote conversations between parents and their students about the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol, about the legal, psychological, physical, and social consequences, and about the laws and university policies governing these substances.
Rationale: Although current AARO programming includes education and discussion of drug and alcohol abuse, it does not do enough to compel face-to-face interactions between parents and students to facilitate their discovery of each others’ attitudes, knowledge, and expectations. Parents tend to think they know more about the lives of their students than they do; students tend to overestimate their ability to manage their use of intoxicants. Students and parents should confront the reality of this issue as they prepare for what we all hope will be a rewarding university experience.
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 who are responsible for their own actions. Nevertheless, an individual institution must do all that is possible to provide an environment that emphasizes academic achievement, social responsibility, and the health and safety of students. SMU, through its programs aimed at education, prevention, and assistance, has shown a genuine commitment to address substance abuse issues. The appointment of the Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention is evidence of that. The observations and recommendations of the Task Force are intended to strengthen the University’s efforts. At this time in SMU’s history, as the University attracts higher-achieving students with expectations of a vigorous intellectual life on campus, and expands its national prominence through research and innovation, the time is right to take aggressive steps to ensure a campus environment that best serves students and supports the University’s emerging new reality, growing potential, and high aspirations.
Appendices (on disk)
- Proof, a cause marketing campaign developed at the Temerlin Institute
Disk 2 – also available on websites
Dartmouth College Good Samaritan and Drug and Alcohol Policies
Emory University Medical Amnesty Policy
Tulane University Medical Amnesty Program
- USC Event Planning Form
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