Dear Students,

I hope you are having a good summer. With about a month to go before the new academic year begins, I am looking forward to having all our returning students and the Class of 2017 on campus. I write to share with you decisions that we know will be of special interest to students.

First, it is important to note that Academic West will open on schedule before classes begin. This new academic building creates a domino effect that is allowing us to move more than a third of faculty offices. Especially for returning students, please take note of the office changes: www.bucknell.edu/x82116.xml.

The policy issues I want to share with you follow. I ask that you read each of these items carefully. Later this morning we will share these decisions with Bucknell parents as well as our alumni, and of course with our faculty and staff.

Medical Amnesty Policy

We believe it is time to change our policy on medical amnesty in situations of dangerous intoxication. Our goal is to encourage students to help one another when friends drink so much alcohol that they put their well-being at risk. In our current Partial Amnesty Policy, when a student calls for medical help for a fellow student who is dangerously drunk, that intoxicated friend gets one point in the Alcohol Policy, receives a $25 fine and is referred to an Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor. These students are only eligible for this partial amnesty once. The problem with this approach is that the callers usually have no idea whether the friends they want to help by making those calls have used up that one partial amnesty.

We have been investigating better options in consultation with Bucknell Student Government (BSG). To encourage students to put the safety of their peers first, we have decided to remove the one-amnesty limit and are ending the practice of allocating points and fines when a student is reported by a friend to be dangerously intoxicated. To ensure that students receive the education and support necessary to remain healthy and safe, students who receive medical amnesty will continue to be referred to the Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor for an alcohol assessment and parents or guardians will be notified. You can read the complete new policy at www.bucknell.edu/MedicalAmnestyPolicy.

We hope that this decision will increase the likelihood that any students who drink so much that they put themselves in danger will immediately get the medical help they need. This new policy also reflects best practice in higher education and is one of the many things we have learned from Bucknell's participation as one of 32 institutions in the Dartmouth Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking that began in 2011. We appreciate the BSG Executive Board's conveying to us that they support this new approach.

Social Events Policy

During the past year, our student affairs staff have talked with many students about social events on campus and have determined that it is time to make some changes. Meaningful conversations on this topic have also been held in the Committee on Campus and Student Life (CCSL) and with BSG and other student leaders. As a result of student recommendations, we are putting the following changes into effect this fall:

  • Uptown may be reserved by student organizations for events with alcohol. The Uptown student staff will manage these events, which will be open to students of all ages (and will follow relevant wristband rules for students of legal drinking age). We will post soon on the webpages of the Division of Student Affairs the formal policy as well as the application forms for using Uptown for these events.
  • We are doubling the number of "pub nights" we host at Uptown during the academic year to 12. These events will continue to be open only to those of legal drinking age.
  • We are increasing the hours of the ELC and Bison to accommodate late-night and early-morning gatherings. We are also changing the event policy to allow non-academic events without alcohol to occur on Sunday-Thursday night after classes.


IFC has asked for certain revisions to the social policy governing events in fraternity houses. The student affairs staff will be reviewing this policy and implementing changes this fall.

In response to student survey results from the spring 2013 semester, the Community Conversation events in November 2012 and April 2013 and discussions within the CCSL and with several student groups, we have also made several other changes. Look for announcements of these changes in our "WE HERD YOU!" campaign this fall.

Alcohol Policy

We believe our Alcohol Policy and points system can be improved. Policies like these are in place at universities across the country and provide a common standard by which institutions protect against underage drinking and safeguard those of legal drinking age. To ensure that sanctions are effective in reducing high-risk drinking behavior, this coming academic year, we will ask a committee of students, faculty and staff to review our Alcohol Policy. This committee will

  • Review professional literature on higher education alcohol policies,
  • Evaluate best practices for alcohol policies at residential campuses in the United States and,
  • By the end of fall 2013, make recommendations to Dean of Students Susan Lantz on changes that could improve our Alcohol Policy and be implemented by fall 2014.

In this work, the committee will benefit from the insights and experience Bucknell is gaining as a member of the Dartmouth Collaborative. Dean Lantz and I look forward to the committee's recommendations.

House Party Weekend

As I hope you know, since my arrival as president three summers ago I have openly shared with you my concerns about the campus climate and the over-consumption of alcohol by some students and the risk it poses to their health and well-being. I have seen too many students get themselves into trouble with alcohol, physically and academically. These students risk serious harm to themselves and others. The reality is that high-risk drinking can lead to death in the blink of an eye, and has at colleges and universities across the country. High-risk drinking is alarming and sad, not only for all of us at Bucknell who care about our students but also of course for the parents and friends of the individuals who put themselves at risk.

More than that, though, these behaviors contradict the values that we as an institution must uphold and that are integral to the learning and growth we want our students to enjoy. These values include integrity, self-respect and decency, which provide the foundation for an educational experience that helps our students fulfill their promise and become leaders in their communities and in society. Personally, I care about these issues because I have dedicated my career to educating young people and supporting others who do so. I have seen the difference a great educational experience can make in a student's life. I am also a father to four sons. Professionally, I care about these issues because as president I am responsible to the community, including our trustees and the parents of our students, for the type of experience Bucknell offers.

I have been concerned about the nature of House Party Weekend since arriving at Bucknell in 2010. In my first year I mostly observed. In the second and third years many colleagues and I worked closely with student leaders to encourage safety and responsible behavior during the event, dedicating significant new University resources to those attempts. I was also aware that, prior to my arrival, numerous steps, many in partnership with IFC, were taken to reduce the risks this event poses to our students and guests.

The student life team has worked with students, Panhellenic, IFC, BSG and faculty in an attempt to change House Party to make it safer. The University has funded and staffed a host of non-alcoholic activities to coincide with House Party Weekend and give students alternative social experiences. We have instituted extensive new communications about the dangers of excessive consumption to students and parents alike. In relevant situations, campus judicial proceedings or local prosecutorial actions (where arrests were made) were initiated against those who violated policies or laws during the weekend.

One purpose of a university is to challenge students to strive, to achieve and to reach for their very best. I can no longer support an event that tacitly enables (and seemingly encourages) our students and their guests to be at their worst. My concerns about this situation, contrary to what some will likely conclude, are not with our Greek-letter system. As I have told the faculty and many other audiences, I believe the Greek-letter system is an important component of our student culture and that we must strengthen it. Already we have added a new staff position in the student affairs office related to fraternity and sorority affairs, added a new Panhellenic sorority and added a new multicultural sorority. But House Party Weekend, in fact, harms our Greek-letter system, by associating it with behaviors far from the spirit or intent of its mission and the origins of House Party Weekend. House Party Weekend started many years ago as a source of pride for our fraternities and sororities and Bucknell as a whole, but whatever House Party Weekend once was, and whatever it was designed to be, it no longer is.

During this year's House Party Weekend, on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, we had 15 students at the hospital with dangerous BAC levels - at 0.239 or above, including six at the critically dangerous level of 0.25 or worse, one at 0.31 and one at 0.373. At 0.35, coma and death often occur. In three cases, the physicians asked Bucknell to call the parents about the students' condition because they feared the students' lives might be in danger. The University cannot idly condone this high-risk behavior.

The students at the hospital, I am sorry to say, were only the tip of the iceberg. Students were attending classes intoxicated on Friday, and even on Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, students were staggering drunk, some of them nearly unable to walk, across campus and downtown areas. Inebriated young alumni were wandering through the ELC on Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning, students were staggering onto the street in front of moving vehicles. Groups of students who were clearly inebriated were stumbling across 6th and 7th Streets at all hours. At two o'clock in the afternoon Friday, as a member of the administration was walking across campus, a student urinated in the person's path. The students who were at the hospital being treated for dangerous intoxication, and the friends who joined them there, were belligerent to doctors, nurses and the student affairs staff who were on call at the hospital, sometimes using vile epithets. Windows in Harris residence hall were smashed. Someone vomited on the bronzed University seal that the Class of 2012 had installed on the quad a year ago. The 48 hours of this year's House Party Weekend included 11 arrests for theft/burglary, four drug violations, five police reports of damaged property, a reported sexual assault, and so on.

Unfortunately, this represents just a sampling of the condition of many students and their guests throughout House Party Weekend, both on and off campus. Even more unfortunately, despite the efforts to make House Party safer for all, this kind of behavior continues to emerge each year during this event. The email I have excerpted below, which came from a student on Friday afternoon, when House Party Weekend was just beginning, captures the situation.

Email from student
1:52 p.m., Friday, March 22, 2013

....I understand that there are traditions that people would like to be upheld, but to what degree is the University willing to accept this culture that has been created? I am just unable to see how anyone can justify going to class drunk, taking shots before classes, or finding any excuse for ridiculous behavior because it is a weekend where the University chooses to look the other way. House Party only brings to light even more the serious drinking problem on this campus because it becomes openly acceptable to be continuously drunk for the entire weekend or should I say week. The support of House Party Weekend just fuels student's justification for drinking and gives off the impression even more that the unsafe, underage drinking is allowed....I truly believe that House Party Weekend is a couple steps in the wrong direction of what I hoped a University such as this would stand for.

We know the self-degrading behaviors that have become common during House Party Weekend do not reflect the character of our students. But we also find it impossible to believe that this event reflects what Bucknellians around the world want - and expect - Bucknell to be.

As I shared with you earlier this summer, the Board of Trustees discussed these issues for many hours at its annual business meeting this spring, both in private executive session and with me and other members of my administration in business sessions.

The trustees and I realize that some in the Bucknell community view House Party Weekend as an almost sacred tradition. The majority of trustees were members of a sorority or fraternity when they attended Bucknell, as was I at my alma mater. As I have done in numerous settings, the trustees too have expressed strongly their desire to strengthen the Greek system at Bucknell. They understand, as I do, that House Party Weekend has become something it was never intended to be, that it is a detriment to Greek-letter organizations and that it poses untenable risks to our students and visitors.

As I shared with students after the board meeting, following its extensive discussion of these matters, the board concluded that it wanted to convey its views through a formal resolution. The resolution, which was passed unanimously, expresses the board's significant concern about House Party Weekend and its support for the administration taking whatever steps may be necessary to address this matter.

I also have discussed my concerns about House Party over the years with our Parents Board, a group of 80 parents representing parents of all four undergraduate years. They too have shared with me their concern about the nature of House Party and their hope that the University would carefully evaluate its future.

Subsequently, I discussed these issues at length with the Alumni Board, a group of nearly 50 alumni representing all generations of our graduates. The majority of the Alumni Board members also belonged to Greek-letter organizations during their undergraduate years at Bucknell. Following my discussion about House Party Weekend with them, the Alumni Board held its own private discussions about these matters. In immediate advance of this letter, we shared with the board the outcome of our deliberations and the board communicated to me that, "The Alumni Board supports the University's decision. Student health and well-being must be the top priority."

We have concluded that House Party Weekend will not continue at Bucknell. This is the only decision that lives up to Bucknell's mission and values and our responsibility to the well-being of Bucknell's students. Ultimately, I do not believe that Bucknellians want their University to be the site of an event that year after year provides a setting for the type of self-destructive, harmful and dangerous behaviors that have become so usual during House Party Weekend. Bucknell is better than this.

I write to tell you of this decision now so that you are aware of it before the school year begins. We do not make this decision lightly. We also know that our students want to make themselves and their families proud by how they handle difficult decisions, and I am counting on all our students to handle this news in that spirit. Bucknell is a great university, with great students. I want our University to make you proud, and this is a step forward for Bucknell.

This decision also frees up considerable resources previously invested in House Party Weekend for a range of new student social activities throughout the year. This will include the possibility of a major one-day outdoor event in the spring that reflects the best in our students. Our student affairs staff will be working closely with students on that idea and to build an exciting range of new events for students to enjoy across the coming school year, and we will welcome your participation in that planning.

The changes we are making in the Medical Amnesty Policy, Social Events Policy and Alcohol Policy, and the termination of House Party Weekend, reflect our commitment to providing an environment for students that is as fun as it is enlightening and responsible, as supportive of rewarding social lives as it is of your futures. Bucknell is ultimately about your future as much as it is about your experience while on campus. You, as the students of Bucknell this year, will lead the way as you build your own lives and the Bucknell of tomorrow.

We are looking forward to the start of classes and a special year in your life.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.

My best,

John

 
John Bravman
President, Bucknell University

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