By Tim Jimenez
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The University of Pennsylvania just formed a commission to look at its policies dealing with student alcohol use.
It will be called The Penn Commission on Student Safety, Alcohol, and Campus Life. The seven member panel will be chaired by Charles O’Brien, vice chair of psychiatry and director of the Center for Studies of Addiction in the University’s Perelman School of Medicine.
“He is an internationally renowned expert on alcohol dependency and public policy,” explains Penn’s Provost Vincent Price. Penn officials say this commission will take an overdue look at the school’s student social life, with the focus on excessive alcohol use.
“It’s been more than a decade (1999) since the University last engaged in such a high level, comprehensive study of these issues. These are issues that are becoming increasingly challenging on college campuses,” Price said.
In September, the school approved a pilot program which was looking to increase the number of registered events on campus that permitted alcohol to be served to those of age.
“We have appropriate safety procedures in place where we make sure there are non-alcoholic alternatives, adequate food served and basically to make sure the environment is as safe as it possibly can be to create the vibrant student life that might be otherwise forced into on-campus, unsupervised kinds of settings,” Price explained.
The panel is looking to expand on the success of that program. Price said they want to use “evidence-based” ideas to build on current policies and programs and recommend new ones to better deal with the Penn students of today. The commission will establish working groups made of school administrators, faculty and others outside of the University, but school officials say student input is critical. The student body will be willing participants according to Dan Bernick, president of the Undergraduate Assembly, Penn’s student government.
“Our students are just, in many ways, exactly like students at other college campuses across the country and across the world,” Bernick said. “We’re dealing with a lot of different issues in growing up and I think this provides an opportunity for us to look both, very locally at Penn, but also to say, ‘What are other schools doing that we could take advantage of and what are the best practices around the country that would help our students be safer?'”
The school says there was no particular incident that triggered the commission. However, the announcement of the commission comes just weeks after the family of a non-Penn student, who died at a fraternity on campus in 2010, settled on a wrongful-death lawsuit with the frat, which is no longer active on campus. They also reached a deal with Penn, but the those details are confidential according to the school.
The commission’s findings are due by the end of the calendar year.