TUFTS UNIVERSITY President Lawrence Bacow is forcing students to think about alcohol abuse in the last place, besides home, they would want to confront it — his office. It’s a welcome embrace of the doctrine of in loco parentis — “in place of a parent.’’
Bacow meets with every Tufts student who receives medical treatment for alcohol-related problems during the school year. The session is not meant to punish or embarrass, but to try to get students to understand the inherent dangers of excessive drinking.
Alcohol abuse by college students is a serious problem. By one estimate, as many as 1,700 college-age students die each year in incidents related in some way to drinking. Bacow understands the risk from a personal perspective. He was a professor at MIT in 1997, when freshman Scott Krueger died after a fraternity hazing, during which he and others drank beer and hard liquor. Krueger passed out, and choked on his own vomit.
After Bacow was appointed MIT chancellor in 1998, he helped reform campus policies as a result of that tragic death. He is also one of 135 college presidents who supported The Amethyst Initiative, a movement launched in 2008 calling for the reconsideration of US drinking age laws. A lower drinking age, some believe, might encourage students to act more responsibly, and take collegiate drinking out of the shadows.
There are no easy answers to binge drinking. But this is one college president who stepped outside the ivory tower, saw inebriated students stumbling around his campus, and is trying to do something about it.