On-campus taverns at Md. colleges keep drinking at home Bars boost student life, stop drunken driving, school officials say

November 10, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF Emily Schuster, a Johns Hopkins University student, contributed to this article.

A new tavern opened this month in Salisbury, with sports decor, ear-splitting deejay music and inexpensive wine, beer and eats.

But this wasn't an ordinary tavern debut. Teen-agers mixed with patrons of drinking age, who wore identifying wristbands. There was no smoking, no hard liquor, and the Crossroads pub -- named by a vote of students at Salisbury State University -- sits smack in the middle of campus.

While colleges in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Florida have gone "dry" this fall after two student deaths attributed to binge drinking, Salisbury State, the Johns Hopkins University and Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg are taking the opposite tack. They're deliberately -- and unapologetically -- "wet."

Hopkins' E-Level pub, named for a nonexistent floor of the nearby Milton S. Eisenhower Library, is remodeled as a sports bar with pool tables and a regular schedule of rock groups and other entertainers.

Mount St. Mary's College's Pourhouse is popular on Thursday nights with seminarians before they leave campus for weekends of field work.

The rationale at the three Maryland schools is the same: Students are going to drink at off-campus locations anyway -- and drive there and back. Why not keep them at home, and boost campus social life in the process?

Salisbury State's new pub resulted from a year of campus self-examination.

"Our pub allows students of all ages to socialize and converse," said Carol Williamson, Salisbury's vice president for student affairs. "And while we hesitate to use the word 'control,' that's what it amounts to. If students drink on campus, we can have some control over it."

Drinking age laws are rigidly enforced in the campus bars. Bartenders, often students on federal work-study grants, are trained to watch for excessive drinking. There are no happy hours, and escorts home are at hand for the tipsy.

Hopkins' E-Level, in its third year, was a financial and attendance disaster last year and was threatened with closing, said Pat Beary, a former campus security officer hired this year to breathe life into the operation.

On Wednesday at 11 p.m., E-Level had about 80 customers, including a number of fraternity and sorority members. The "Greeks" are the group most inclined to off-campus drinking, according to national surveys, but George Laufenberg, an E-Level student manager and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity member, said they are sampling E-Level and liking it.

"We had our Founders Day party here," said Alla Nayman, 21, vice president of Phi Mu sorority, "and we loved it. It's better than last year."

Beary, 33, once worked as a manager at Hammerjacks, the legendary South Baltimore nightclub, and he's eager to make E-Level "user-friendly."

He's scheduled a series of band appearances, rented the pub to campus groups and laced the menu with sandwiches named after campus officials. The "Bill Brody," for Hopkins' president, has "lots of ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato, topped with mustard and served on an honor roll."

"I'm not absolutely required to make money," said Beary, "but I will. I've brought in more money since we opened this fall than all previous managers put together."

At rural Mount St. Mary's College, underage students aren't allowed in the Pourhouse after 9 p.m., but George Houston, the )) college president, said he might lift that restriction.

"At a place like the Mount," Houston said, "there are two primary reasons for having an on-campus drinking place -- heading off off-campus drinking and keeping students out of cars."

'Heartbreaking stories'

"We're a mile and a half from Emmitsburg, and I wish you could hear the heartbreaking stories I always hear at alumni gatherings," said Houston. "There's not a single older alumnus who doesn't have a story, often related with tears, about losing a friend on Route 15. Drinking is almost always involved in these stories."

The heightened concern over campus alcohol policies arises from binge-drinking deaths this fall at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Louisiana State University, and last year at Frostburg State University in Western Maryland and Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y.

A 1995 survey of 17,000 American college students found that 84 percent drink, while 44 percent "binge" -- defined as consuming five or more drinks in one session.

When Salisbury State surveyed its students a year ago, it found an even higher percentage: 56 percent reported bingeing in the two weeks before the survey.

The opening of a pub on campus is but one of several steps Salisbury State and other schools have taken to curb student drinking -- or at least to channel it. They've established drug- and alcohol-free dormitories and encouraged off-campus bars to drop happy hours and act responsibly in selling liquor.

Still, said Houston, it's off-campus drinking over which schools have little control. "If I could report to you that the drinking behavior off-campus is as good as it is in the Pourhouse, I'd be a happy man," he said.

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