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Sharp to co-chair committee to combat binge drinking

President Charles Vest has appointed Professor Phillip A. Sharp to co-chair a committee that will study alcohol abuse and binge drinking at MIT and on college campuses across America and formulate strategies to combat the problem.

The announcement was one of several steps taken by the Institute in the wake of the death of freshman Scott Krueger of alcohol poisoning on September 29. Mr. Krueger was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center three nights earlier after he was found unconscious in his room at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house in Boston.

President Vest made the appointment of Professor Sharp public on Friday during an interview with Katie Couric on NBC's Today Show. The other co-chair and members of the panel have not been named. Participants will include outside experts, MIT faculty and students.

"We have a specific goal," President Vest said on NBC's Today Show. "That goal will be by the end of this year to produce new educational programs and new materials that will be much more effective in stopping binge drinking and making sure people understand the effects that it can have on themselves and their fellow students."

Professor Sharp, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology, said the committee will start by collecting material and inviting experts to take part in seminars during the spring semester.

"The purpose of the committee is to learn about the social behavior and physical aspects of binge drinking and to recommend methods of preventing it," said Dr. Sharp, the Salvador E. Luria Professor of Biology and head of the department. The committee expects to complete its work by the end of this academic year.

President and Mrs. Rebecca Vest, Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind Williams, Senior Associate Dean Robert Randolph and a busload of students that included members of Phi Gamma Delta attended Mr. Krueger's funeral Saturday at St. John's Lutheran Church in Orchard Park, NY. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations be sent to the Scott S. Krueger Memorial Fund, PO Box 1045, Orchard Park, NY, 14127.

The Suffolk County medical examiner told The Tech that Krueger died from alcohol poisoning and from choking on his own vomit.

Addressing a packed press conference in the Miller Room last Wednesday, President Vest announced plans to construct undergraduate housing on campus that will be available in three to four years. He also banned the use of MIT funds to purchase alcohol for events at which underage students are present.

Noting the voluntary suspension of the serving of alcohol by the Interfraternity Council and the Dormitory Council at their functions while they review their policies, President Vest announced he and Professor Lotte Bailyn, chair of the faculty, were suspending the serving of alcohol at functions they host during the month of October, to bring attention to the issue.

In a letter distributed to the MIT community on Wednesday, Dr. Vest wrote, "We encourage all student, faculty and administrative groups to consider such voluntary suspensions."

In the letter, President Vest noted that additional on-campus housing "will provide increased flexibility and options for improving the quality of the living experience for all our students, especially during the freshman year."

In other developments:

��������������������������� A survey by the Medical Department's Health Education office in 1995 reported that MIT students use drugs and alcohol less that students on most campuses. The survey showed that 30 percent of MIT students had abstained from alcohol in the previous year (compared to 13 percent nationally).

Among the students who did use alcohol, the average number of drinks in a week was 2.4 (4.4 nationally). At MIT, 23 percent of the students said they had indulged in binge drinking during the previous week (44 percent nationally).

Fifteen percent of MIT students reported using marijuana (27 percent nationally) and 3 percent used hallucinogens (5 percent nationally). Five percent of students here said they used inhalants, which includes nitrous oxide, solvents and glue (2 percent nationally).

Thirty percent of MIT students said they felt peer pressure to drink during the previous 30 days and 53 percent felt that student drinking interfered with campus life.

��������������������������� Two former students, Scott Velazquez and Robert Plotkin, said they warned President Vest in writing in 1993 that steps must be taken to avoid an alcohol-related tragedy. While President Vest did not meet with them personally, they were referred to the office of the Dean for Student Services and met with several officials who were evaluating the Institute's policies over a period of months. One of the students helped write the literature distributed to incoming freshmen the next year.

��������������������������� Former MIT student Paul Kirby, who chaired the subcommittee on alcohol policy of the Undergraduate Association's Standing Committee on Student Life in 1991, charged that the administration did not respond effectively to a 64-page report that concluded the alcohol education program was ineffective and that existing policies were not being enforced.

The report made 17 recommendations, seven of which were implemented in whole or part. The Undergraduate Association voted against a ban on using house taxes for alcohol and the appointment of a dean for alcohol education. Those duties subsequently were divided among an assistant dean, Medical Department personnel and others

The report also called for the Institute to develop an "alcohol reality training program." An in-house training program was implemented for a year and replaced by an outside training course which had been used previously. That program is still being used.

��������������������������� The Institute is currently reviewing all������������������policies and procedures relating to alcohol on campus.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 8, 1997.

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