Drug, alcohol violations rise at SOU

ASHLAND — Drug and alcohol violations increased significantly at Southern Oregon University from 2006 to 2007, but university officials say it's the result of better enforcement, not more bad behavior.

Drug law violations more than doubled, from 72 in 2006 to 150 in 2007, and liquor law violations increased nearly 65 percent, from 150 in 2006 to 247 in 2007, according to campus public safety statistics the university is required to release each fall.

Citations for alcohol-related incidents fell slightly, from 62 in 2006 to 58 in 2007. The number of drug-related citations rose from 22 in 2006 to 31 in 2007, according to the same report.

In 2007, the university hired a student conduct coordinator specifically to handle behavior issues, said Jonathan Eldridge, vice president of student affairs. Previously, minor issues that didn't require police action were handled by the dean of students, he said. Now, every incident involving alcohol, no matter how small, results in a conversation with the student and is reported as a disciplinary action.

"While we have had more of those, because we were handling them in a more formal way, the repeat offenders actually went down," Eldridge said.

In the past, if a staff member found an underage student with a bottle of beer, the student was asked to pour out the drink and told to make sure it didn't happen again, he said. Now, staff members sit down and discuss not only alcohol, but also how the student is handling classes and school in general.

Eldridge said the school has been able to head off problems before they escalated and forced students to drop out of school, which has resulted in better student retention rates. Occasionally, a student will be asked to take a break or leave school if behavior is "egregious."

For off-campus offenses, SOU has had a working relationship with the Ashland Police Department for more than 15 years, said Deputy Chief Rich Walsh, who meets weekly with university officials.

"It's been a very good relationship for us because we are able to, a lot of times, find that problem student," he said.

Without those meetings, the two groups wouldn't get a full picture of what students are involved in, he said.

"Sometimes you can head things off at the pass," he said. "Once in a while you find somebody that this community isn't a good fit for them."

The university and police department have not been able to eliminate all misbehavior by students, however. Since Sept. 17, a week before new students moved in, 10 students have been arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants, out of a total of 20 DUII arrests during that time period. Police also have issued multiple citations to students for possession of marijuana or possession of alcohol as a minor.

"Obviously, we expect to get a lot more issues with SOU students when they're actually in town," said Police Chief Terry Holderness. "We have been expecting that (drug and alcohol citations) would pick up when students come in to town because they always do."

The police department helped advise resident assistants on laws regarding minors and alcohol, as well as traffic safety and other issues that affect students, Holderness said.

University officials talk with parents during summer registration sessions about working together to encourage students to use alcohol responsibly. Also, education sessions that emphasize healthy choices are held in residence halls throughout the year, Eldridge said.

The university is hosting the annual Alcohol Awareness Week this week, providing information about responsible alcohol consumption. The same message is delivered again before spring break and Memorial Day weekend. Diversions, a drug- and alcohol-free night club in the basement of the Stevenson Union, also is available for student use.

"Alcohol is an issue on every college campus across the country," Eldridge said, "and the more alternative activities and opportunities to make healthy choices that we offer, then the less likely a student is to engage in inappropriate use of alcohol."

Julie French is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.

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