Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow, citing fears that a student might one day die, says he cannot let the university continue a decades-old tradition in which students drink heavily, then run around the quad naked, in the cold.
"Given that we can no longer manage the run, we cannot allow this 'tradition' to continue," Bacow said in an op-ed piece published in today's Tufts Daily, the student newspaper.
"Even if I did not act now, [the Naked Quad Run] would end some day. The only question is whether a student has to die first. We cannot allow this to happen, and the Naked Quad Run will not continue," he said, noting that the run is fueled by alcohol and a number of students were hospitalized after drinking too much during this December's run.
Bacow said other institutions had "developed new opportunities to build community while ending traditions that are dangerous to students" and he had asked students to work with Tufts officials to create a "new campus-wide winter event that will engage the larger community."
Bacow said that he first became aware of the run in 2002, when two students nearly died due to alcohol poisoning and there were many reports of broken bones, sprained ankles and wrists, as well as accounts of students being tripped and groped by spectators.
He said that when he saw that "carnage," he sent a message to the community saying that it should end. But he said he was persuaded by students and alumni to try to manage it instead.
Officials took various measures, including erecting barriers to keep spectators away from runners, salting and sanding the course, and providing providing food to runners so they wouldn't be drinking on an empty stomach, he said.
"Unfortunately, our efforts to manage the risks associated with the run may only have helped it grow," he said. He also said that the university's capacity to manage the run had also diminished over time.
During this December's run, he said, one person was arrested, 12 students were transported to the hospital, and drunken students who showed up at a hospital to check on a friend "disrupted emergency room operations." Two of the hospitalized students had dangerously high blood alcohol levels that placed their lives in jeopardy, he said.
"Clearly, this past December we once again only narrowly avoided a tragedy," he said.
The run started in the 1970s, university officials have said, when male students, opposing plans for coed housing, streaked across campus in protest. By 1987, they were joined by women. The cold weather, bare feet of runners, and hilly campus have added to the danger of the event.
Bacow has been on an unusual personal quest to combat what he says is a pervasive binge drinking culture on campus, the Globe reported in June. Since fall of 2009, students treated for alcohol-related problems have been summoned to his office for a one-on-one chat in which he implores them to learn from their mistakes.
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