Boren reflects on implementation of alcohol policy
Jeremy Dickie, The Oklahoma Daily
The number of OU students charged with drunken driving is higher than it has ever been since OU instituted its “three strikes” policy, according to information OU spokesman Jay Doyle provided.
In 2008, OU received 261 reports from law-enforcement agencies about OU students charged with driving under the influence, 53 more reports than OU received in any of the previous three years of the three-strikes policy, and 96 more than OU received in 2005, the first year of the policy.
OU President David Boren said two factors led to this increase: increased enforcement of drunken driving laws both by OUPD and Norman police, and students’ fading memories about the reasons OU implemented the policy.
OU’s three-strikes policy took effect in January 2005, three months after the alcohol-related death of Blake Hammontree
“I feel like we have the right to be strict, and should be strict [about DUI enforcement], especially when we’re providing [help], like the SafeRide alternative,” Boren said.
Norman hasn’t instituted any specific crackdowns on drunken driving since Hammontree’s death or since OU implemented its alcohol policy, but has increased its enforcement of drunken driving laws generally over many years, said Norman Police Department Capt. Leonard Judy.
He also attributed the higher number of OU student DUI arrests to the passage of time after Hammontree’s death.
“You could probably contact 100 students at random ... and say, ‘Have you ever heard of Blake Hammontree?’ And I would imagine a majority of them [would] say ‘Who?’” he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
A greater spike was seen in the number of 17-20-year-olds arrested for all drunken driving offenses by OUPD, including DUI, driving while intoxicated and actual physical control. In 2008, 164 such arrests were made, 100 more than were made in 2005, according to information obtained in an open-records request.
OU’s alcohol-related discipline charges are also down from where they were when the three-strikes policy came into being, according to information Doyle provided.
The first full year, 2005 through 2006, 820 students faced charges under the three-strikes policy. In 2008 through 2009, that number dropped to 695.
However, the low point under the policy, 601 cases, came in 2006 through 2007, the policy’s second full year.
More of the OU’s first-time alcohol cases are being handled with deferred first strikes, 288 in 2008 through 2009, up from 240 the previous year.
A student is eligible to defer a first strike for non-DUI offenses, allowing the strike to disappear completely from the student’s record if he or she has no additional alcohol-related offenses within a year of receiving the deferred strike and otherwise completes the conditions of the strike, such as mandatory education or counseling.
“This ... is not a scientific survey, but just from my experience, when students get that first deferred strike or warning, so to speak, or they get a first strike, parents start to get involved. Friends and parents start to get involved,” Boren said. “I think you also have a lot of students who just say, ‘Oh, these are big risks for me, and I don’t want this to happen, and I don’t want this to be in my records, if it’s a strike that’s not deferred.’”
Second strikes are up some, with 25 last chances being given in 2008 through 2009. OU issued 12 second strikes in 2005 through 2006 and 13 in 2006 through 2007, with 30 being the high water mark in 2007 through 2008.
Only three students have taken third strikes, or automatic one-semester suspensions, since the program started in 2005, but two of those third strikes came last year.
“When you get to the second strike, we’ve been very fortunate, we’ve had almost complete parental involvement and family involvement, or a family friend or an older friend of the student get involved,” Boren said.
A final statistic shows the number of students using OU’s SafeRide system is increasing year after year. Ridership is up from 3,425 in the 2004 through 2005 fiscal year (July-June), the first year of the program, to 9,983 in 2008 through 2009.
“Those figures are extremely encouraging to me, which makes me feel that the ... change in the culture is still strong, even though the DUI figures have been going up,” Boren said.
OU converted SafeRide from a shuttle-bus system augmented by taxi vouchers that served only a limited area near campus, to a system that allows students to call taxis to take them anywhere within Norman’s city limits on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights, according to both Boren and the SafeRide Web site.
“We used to have what we called SafeRide, but it was a little bus that went around mainly the Campus Corner area,” Boren said. “It was not all over the city. It was not really very accessible, because you had to stand on a street corner, and wait for it to come.”
The use of SafeRide is anonymous and OU administrators cannot bring charges under the three strikes policy for the use of SafeRide, Boren said.
A CHANGE IN THE CULTURE
Boren said Hammontree’s death was one of the most difficult things he’s gone through in his nearly 15 years as president.
“I vowed to myself that’s something I never want to do again,” he said. “It was so painful, obviously for his parents, for his sister. I spent a great deal of time with them during the aftermath of his death. I wanted to make sure it never happened again. I think that’s the best way we can pay tribute to him, honor his memory is to try to make sure that no life of an OU student is lost in the future through alcohol poisoning.”
The three-strikes policy is just one measure OU took to address alcohol issues. Others included mandatory Web-based alcohol education for incoming students under the age of 22, the addition of an alcohol counselor to Goddard Health Center’s staff, alcohol education for students taking a first strike and alcohol counseling for students taking a second.
“The University of Oklahoma can’t prevent students from drinking,” said Tim Kuykendall, who served as Cleveland County District Attorney at the time of Hammontree’s death. “Neither can local law enforcement. Now, they can deal with it as increased enforcement, but there you’re dealing with it on the back end. I think it’s more important to deal with it on the front end, through education programs. And that’s something I know the university is doing.”
Kuykendall is also a former chapter adviser for Phi Delta Theta fraternity at OU.
The number one goal of the new policy, though, was to eliminate binge drinking, Boren said. To that end, OU required residence halls and OU-recognized greek houses to be alcohol-free.
This primarily affected fraternities, because sororities were already alcohol-free and students in residence were already subject to inspection, Boren said.
Boren said OU took the step to eliminate hall parties, parties that took place behind the closed and locked doors of primarily fraternity houses, and binge drinking, which the Centers for Disease Control’s Web site states typically happens when men consume five or more drinks in two hours, or women who consume four or more drinks in the same time frame.
“What we’ve found is that people who are in public, or in regulated situations, don’t tend to binge drink,” he said. “Most people don’t really want to be carried out of a public restaurant or public place. They don’t want the public embarrassment.”
Boren said the alcohol-free house policy is enforced by inspections. However, fraternity houses receive a phone call 15-60 minutes prior to the inspection, Boren said.
“Believe me, having seen photographs and having heard detailed accounts of what the Sigma Chi house looked like that night ... there was no way with 15 minutes notice or an hour’s notice, that that house, what happened there, could have been cleaned up and not been obvious to any inspector that stepped in,” Boren said.
The announcements prior to inspection, though, are troubling to Kuykendall.
“When they do things like that, it kind of defeats the purpose of random checks, when you call first and say you’re coming,” he said. “If the policy is to prevent the hall parties, then it’s working. If the policy is to keep alcohol out of the individual rooms, it’s not. Or to keep kegs out of the hallway or kegs out of the foyer, it’s not. Because in 30 minutes you can certainly haul the keg in the kitchen, or back room, or closet, or any individual room and the ... checks do not extend into going into those individual rooms.”
Boren said he expects individual room doors to be “cracked” when inspectors arrive, but that he said OU inspectors would not go “to the extreme of going in and searching through everyone’s sock drawers in their rooms and everything.”
Greek houses agreed to the inspection policy, since OU does not own most of the fraternity houses, Boren said. That prevented OU from imposing any search policy it chose to on fraternities. On the other hand, he said, OU would not recognize greek organizations that did not agree to being searched, which would prevent those houses from participating in rush, intramurals and the like. Additionally, OU’s Panhellenic sororities stated they would not socialize with houses that did not agree to the new policies, he said.
“Our goal is not to entrap people,” he said. “Our goal is to stop dangerous behavior. So, we’ll try to strike a balance with you.”
That balance may be tipping more toward increased inspections at fraternity houses and residence halls.
“I think that it’s time for us to make sure that we have enough inspections and increase the frequency of them and maybe the thoroughness of them, to send a strong message again,” Boren said. “Remember, this policy’s here. Remember, we can be there inspecting at any time. And we will be. Early hours of the morning, and unexpected times, and so on. I think you’ll see inspections stepped up.”
Opinions are split as to whether these changes have made a difference in OU’s alcohol culture.
“I think it has,” Boren said. “I think it needs some reinforcing again.”
Kuykendall said Hammontree’s death did cause a change in how OU, as an institution, views alcohol abuse and misuse.
“I think it caused OU to take a harsher look at people and groups that violate the drinking policy,” he said. “I think it caused the University of Oklahoma to make some changes in their policy. I think it woke up students to the problems of excessive drinking.”
However, he also said even with that awareness, the problem of binge drinking is growing, not shrinking.
“I think binge drinking among students is out of control,” he said. “They don’t realize the dangers of drinking in excess. I think it’s a bigger problem than it’s ever been.”
And Judy said he thinks the issues of underage and binge drinking are perennial problems, ones that won’t disappear anytime soon.
“Students who come to the university in Norman, just as they do nationwide, frequently are on their own and left to their own devices and free of parental supervision for the first time in their lives,” he said. “In a lot of cases, they feel it appropriate for them to kind of spread their wings and do some things that they’ve heard about and that their peers are doing and they see going on.”
Even Boren said completely eliminating alcohol issues on campus isn’t an achievable goal.
“Will we ever achieve perfection? No.” he said. “I understand there’s no way that the university’s seeing eyes can be on everything 24 hours a day, and [on] every bit of behavior.”
ALCOHOL FACTS AND RESOUCES
Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning:
• Slow or irregular breathing
• Strong odor of alcohol
• Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin
• Vomiting while “sleeping” or passed out
OUPD: 911 or 325-1717
OU Health Services, Health Promotion: 325-4611 ext. 41777
OU Counseling and Testing Services: 325-2911
Anonymous Hazing and Alcohol Hotline: 325-5000
A free taxi service for students with an OU ID available anywhere within Norman.
Names and ID numbers are not recorded. The service is available Thursday to Saturday from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Facts about alcohol:
• The liver removes alcohol at a constant rate of approximately one standard drink per hour
• A standard drink is classified as a 12 oz. beer, a 5 oz. wine or 1 shot of liquor
• 1 in 5 OU students choose not to drink
Preventative measures to take while drinking:
• Eat before and/or during the evening
• Count the number of drinks while consuming them
• Pace drinking to one or fewer drinks per hour
• Avoid drinking games
• Decide not to drink at a party
Sexual activity and alcohol:
• 90 percent of all campus rapes, including acquaintance rape, are alcohol-related.
• 60 percent of college women infected with STDs were infected while under the influence of alcohol.
• Students are more likely to have unprotected sex while intoxicated.
• Alcohol is the most commonly used drug to assist in sexual assault.
OU’s ideas and policies:
• OU will not issue a strike if you act to get help for a medical emergency.
• Each year an estimated 1,700 college students die in alcohol related deaths.
What is binge drinking?
• A high-risk activity that results in drinking alcohol that brings the BAC to .08 percent or above.
• For a typical adult, the pattern corresponds to consuming five or more drinks for a male, or four or more drinks for a female in about two hours.
Of college students surveyed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
• 25 percent reported academic consequences because of their drinking
• 1,700 students die every year from alcohol-related injuries
• 599,000 were unintentionally injured during drinking
• 600,000 plus were assaulted as a result of the consumption of alcohol
• 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape were reported
• 400,000 had unprotected sex while under the influence of alcohol
• 150,000 plus developed alcohol related health problems
• 11 percent reported that they damaged property while under the influence of alcohol
• 5 percent reported being involved with police or campus security due to alcohol related violations