With colleges under growing pressure to reduce alcohol-soaked student misbehavior, Dartmouth College said Thursday that it would ban hard liquor on campus, going beyond the changes that all but a few of its peers have been willing to make.
Dartmouth has had a string of embarrassments involving binge drinking, and it has hardly been alone. The sexual assaults, fraternity hazing and hospitalizations that have rocked campuses around the nation have often involved extreme intoxication, like the case of the former Vanderbilt football players convicted this week of raping an unconscious woman, or that of a Stanford swimmer accused of rape this week.
But if Dartmouth is drawing a line in the sand, it will have little company on its side. Many campuses, most of them with religious affiliations, have long been completely dry, but only a handful of colleges and universities that once allowed hard liquor have tried to ban it. Despite Dartmouth’s prominence as a member of the Ivy League, experts say not to expect many institutions, if any, to follow its lead.
“I think you’re going to continue to see smaller efforts to step up enforcement, but not a lot of big statements like this,” said Kevin Kruger, the president of Naspa, a national association of student affairs professionals in Washington. He expressed some skepticism about the new policy, saying that while hard alcohol played a particularly destructive role, the root of the issue was that for a majority of college students, “they’re under 21 and it’s illegal to drink, period.”
Philip J. Hanlon, the president of Dartmouth, has warned of the damage done to the college and its reputation by serial misconduct, and on Thursday, he announced a far-ranging overhaul of campus life. It is possible, he said, that individual fraternities, or even the Greek system as a whole, will be banished. But it was a new rule that was not proposed as hypothetical — the prohibition on hard alcohol in the spring — that drew the most attention and most sharply divided opinions on campus.
Jake G. Rascoff, a senior, said there was no denying that abuse of hard alcohol posed a serious problem, but that banning it would be ineffectual.
“It will increase the incidence of surreptitious binge drinking and increase the risk of binge drinking off campus, which will lead to drunk driving,” said Mr. Rascoff, who is an executive editor of The Dartmouth Review. If the college is to ban hard liquor, he said, it should ease limits on the amount of beer and wine at fraternity parties and relax penalties for violating alcohol rules.
But Chester Brown, a senior who is president of the Beta Alpha Omega fraternity, said that while “the ban will create a pretty significant shift in the way that we operate,” and many will object, on balance he favored it.
“It’s important to recognize that the alternative here is abolition of the Greek system,” he said.
In recent years, a small number of colleges, including Bowdoin, Bates and Colby, have adopted hard-alcohol bans similar to Dartmouth’s. (At the University of Mississippi’s main campus, the situation is reversed because of local laws: Beer is forbidden, but not stronger drinks.) A somewhat larger number, including Stanford, Colgate and Swarthmore, have banned hard liquor in certain places and at certain kinds of events.
Brown University last week announced a review of its alcohol policy, prompted by reports of sexual assaults at two fraternity parties. The university banned one fraternity from campus for four years and placed the other on probation.
But the rules about alcohol are just one factor in a college’s atmosphere and reputation. Pennsylvania State University has a fairly strict alcohol policy, including a prohibition in residence halls, yet it is routinely rated as one of the most raucous party schools in the country. Some universities have strong policies but lax enforcement, and at many of them, fraternities own their houses and the land beneath them, putting them out of reach of college policy.
Dartmouth has the advantage that its fraternity houses sit on college property, and geography may provide another advantage. The college’s isolation in west-central New Hampshire means there are few nearby options for off-campus imbibing, and its hometown, Hanover, has a reputation for serious enforcement.
Enforcement is a challenge anywhere, said Mr. Kruger of Naspa, but “on an urban campus, it’s impossible.”
The measures Dr. Hanlon announced Thursday in a speech on campus had been expected and were based largely on the work of a panel he created nine months ago to review campus life.
As of March 30, when the spring term begins, Dartmouth will prohibit any liquor on campus that is 15 percent alcohol — barely more than most wine — or more. Dr. Hanlon said the college would increase penalties for providing alcohol to minors, but the details of that, and the penalties for violating the hard-liquor ban, remain to be worked out.
College officials cited the prevalence of “pregaming,” getting drunk before a party, and conceded that cracking down on such private drinking would be harder than policing parties.
Dartmouth will draft codes of conduct, not only for individual students but also for fraternities and other groups. Dr. Hanlon said that he was not inclined to get rid of Greek organizations, but that they “must and will be held to much higher standards and a far greater level of accountability.”
“Organizations that choose not to fulfill these higher standards will not be a part of our community,” he said. “And if the Greek system as a whole does not engage in meaningful, lasting reform, we will revisit its continuation on our campus.”
Greek houses dominate Dartmouth’s social scene. More than half of its students join fraternities and sororities, and other sites for gatherings are limited. Dr. Hanlon said the college would build new spaces for social events, providing an alternative.
He praised the Greek system for the steps it has recently taken — like ending the pledge period in which members are admitted on a probationary basis, which critics say amounts to an invitation to hazing, and requiring each fraternity or sorority house to have active faculty advisers of both sexes. Dr. Hanlon said those changes were now college policy.
Starting in the fall, incoming Dartmouth students will be placed in one of six clusters of dormitories and will stay in their assigned clusters through their college years. Each “residential community” will organize social events and will have some resident faculty members and graduate students. The system, much like those used at Yale, Harvard and elsewhere, is an attempt to foster communal ties.
“I loved the residential life proposals,” said Catherine Donahoe, the social chairwoman of Dartmouth’s Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority. But, like other students, she had conflicting views on hard alcohol, saying that it posed a problem but that she feared a ban would drive it underground.
“If I were to design the policy, it’d be pushing alcohol into the open so that it’s as visible as possible,” she said.