UI president: College drinking is a health crisis

POCATELLO, Idaho — The interim president for the University of Idaho says the school is hiring additional staff, tightening up drug and alcohol use policies and enforcing restrictions on fraternity and sorority programs at the Moscow campus.

Don Burnett told the Idaho State Board of Education about the changes on Thursday during a meeting in Pocatello. The recommendations came from two task forces formed by former UI President Duane Nellis after a student died of hypothermia following a fraternity party in January.

“This is a public health crisis,” Burnett said about excessive drinking and substance abuse among college students.

Since 2004, there have been three serious injuries and five University of Idaho student deaths, all blamed on alcohol consumption. Burnett said national statistics show 40 percent of college students drink alcohol excessively.

UI Dean of Students Bruce Pitman said the new policy requires all incoming freshman to take a three-hour class on substance abuse, healthy relationships and “bystander intervention.” If a freshman fails to achieve at least a 1.0 grade point during a semester, “we’re going to invite them to leave,” Pitman said.

The university will enter memorandums of understanding with fraternities and sororities that are active at the school, stating specific guidelines for alcohol-related activities. Those Greek organizations that don’t comply will no longer be recognized by the university or get any of the benefits provided to official school organizations.

“I think this will be a change in the relationship between the Greek life organizations and the university,” Burnett said, adding that he thinks the organizations will be on board with the changes.

The university is also hiring two new staffers who will work to implement and enforce the new policies, Burnett said. The school reallocated funding to create the positions because Burnett said he felt the university shouldn’t wait for the next round of appropriations.

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