President Scott S. Cowen
Tulane University
January 25, 2001

Dear Tulane Student Community,

As president, I have a tremendous sense of pride in Tulane University. We have talented and principled people, a long tradition of scholastic excellence, and a future ripe with opportunity. As I walk the campus, meet with various groups, and listen to Tulane stories, I am reminded over and over again that this is a vital community that defines and sustains us.

Despite my delight in the overall quality of the Tulane experience, I am distressed that, particularly for undergraduates, this experience is all too often marred by alcohol abuse. Even though only a small segment of Tulane students habitually abuse alcohol, the community as a whole feels the negative effects of this misuse. Excessive and high-risk drinking detracts from the quality of the educational experience, threatens the health and safety of our students, and diminishes our reputation as an academic institution.

I am very concerned about the possibility of someone dying or being seriously injured because of alcohol poisoning or an alcohol-related accident. Yet, this is not my only concern. Sometimes heavy drinking leads to aggressive behavior such as fights, vandalism, and sexual assault. Sometimes heavy drinking leaves an otherwise fit person vulnerable to victimization. Drinking to the extent of incurring these consequences is indeed high-risk. In all of the recent discussions about alcohol at Tulane, no one has suggested to me that the outcomes of abusive drinking are good for the drinker, his or her social group, or the community at large. Many--including students--have suggested that as a caring community, Tulane must do what it can to curb these risks.

Last year, my concern about the abuse of alcohol among our students led to the establishment of an Alcohol Task Force. Their report to me was predicated on its realization that high-risk drinking at Tulane is a multifaceted problem requiring a multifaceted solution. The task force recommended 24 courses of action, involving academics, late-hour programming, and discipline and policy matters. The recommendations were ambitious and well thought out. We are deeply committed to their implementation.

Although the recommendations of the Alcohol Task Force were fairly comprehensive, I do not think they adequately addressed residence hall policy. Ninety-five percent of our undergraduates live in residence halls during their first year, and events in residence halls have a significant impact on their Tulane experience. Not only should residence halls provide a hospitable place for all students, including non-drinkers; they also must facilitate the educational accomplishments of residents.

Many persons, including much of the academic leadership within the institution, have urged a change in our current policy that allows persons under 21 to drink in their residence hall rooms. They, like the Alcohol Task Force, have noted the importance of setting a tone of high expectations, academic engagement, and educational excellence.

The senior academic and administrative leadership of the university have consulted with many groups on this topic, internally and externally, including those who oppose as well as those who support a change in residence hall policy. However, I can find little to justify continuance of a policy that contributes to the public's image of Tulane as a "party school" and is at odds with the concept of residence life as integral to the educational mission of the institution.

Therefore, we have decided that Tulane cannot continue to allow drinking in residence hall rooms by anyone under 21. This change will be phased in, becoming effective for first year students in the fall of 2001, and all students under 21 in the fall of 2002.

I realize there are those who believe that this change will make no difference--that students will drink anyway. I agree no single recommendation will make a difference. However, the cumulative effect of all that we are implementing will be significant. I also realize there are those who believe that this change will be difficult to enforce. I agree, and that is why I am asking for student involvement in articulating and implementing reasonable enforcement procedures to enhance our residence hall communities. Since virtually all universities have this policy already in place, we can learn from their collective experiences. Finally, I realize there are those who believe that this change will push drinking off-campus, forcing students into unsafe situations. My response is to suggest that putting oneself in unsafe situations is rarely inevitable, but is more often the result of personal choices that people, not institutions, ultimately make.

Tulane students are among the best anywhere. You deserve the best that this institution and that we, as a caring community, can offer. This is why we are addressing high-risk drinking and the culture it creates at Tulane through an inclusive approach involving faculty, staff, and the community. As part of this effort, we--as individuals, as an institution, as a community--must try new approaches with the confidence that we will be better for it.



Scott S. Cowen

Office of the President Emeritus, 1555 Poydras St, Suite 700, New Orleans, LA 70112 504-274-3638