University of Kentucky to relax campus alcohol policy; new rules yet to be developed

Crowds fill the streets around State Street, and University Ave to celebrate UK's 2014 Midwest Regional Championship, and a trip to the Final Four, Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014  Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Crowds fill the streets around State Street, and University Ave to celebrate UK's 2014 Midwest Regional Championship, and a trip to the Final Four, Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014 Photo by Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

Sixteen years after the University of Kentucky banned alcohol from on-campus housing, the school will open the door to some legal drinking, President Eli Capilouto announced Thursday.

UK will revise its policies to permit alcohol to be served and consumed on campus under certain guidelines and conditions, but those details — such as whether drinking would be allowed in fraternities or other on-campus housing — haven't yet been worked out, Capilouto said.

His decision follows recommendations made in a new report written by a group of UK, city and community officials who studied the issue, including problems that have occurred with off-campus partying.

Capilouto also said he will extend the UK Code of Student Conduct to off-campus locations. That change is in reaction to several years of rowdy street celebrations in off-campus neighborhoods when UK's men's basketball team advanced in the NCAA tournament.

"Our first priority is the safety of our students and the community we serve," Capilouto said. "At the same time, we want to build on the strong relationships we have with our neighbors and the broader community. This report, the work of so many people on our campus and in Lexington, is another important step in building an enduring, mutually beneficial relationship of trust and candor."

In 1988, UK banned alcohol in residence halls. A decade later, the school banned alcohol from all campus housing, including fraternities, most of which are on campus. Critics and nearby residents contend that this change forced more students and more parties into surrounding neighborhoods.

The problem reached a peak in 2012, when UK won the NCAA tournament and partying off campus resulted in multiple arrests and property damage.

Robert Mock, vice president of student affairs, said UK has always tried to enforce the Student Code of Conduct off campus, but officials didn't always know when students got in trouble. For example, if city police arrest a student for DUI, that information might never make it to UK police, who would then forward such information to UK's judicial affairs office.

Now, there will be more formalized communication between the two police forces.

As recommended by the alcohol policy work group, UK will develop an active enforcement task force — composed of Lexington and campus police, the UK Office of Student Conduct and Bluegrass Community and Technical College's Student Affairs — to coordinate reporting and handling of violations of the student code of conduct.

"We didn't have an absolute process in place to receive the information," Mock said. "This is a much more expansive effort."

Of 40 people arrested by Lexington police after one NCAA tournament game this month, three were UK students, Mock said. Those students now face additional non-criminal charges of breaking the code of conduct. Depending on the charge, penalties could range from probation to community service to suspension.

Still to be determined, Mock said, is how to address problems caused by UK students in other places, such as popular spring break destinations.

To answer questions about where and when drinking could occur on campus, Capilouto has formed a permanent committee of administrators, faculty, staff, students and Lexington residents. That committee will meet through the summer and is to announce new rules for the fall semester, he said.

UK officials said that judging from student surveys at UK and other schools, a "dry" campus does not result in students drinking less; instead, it changes where they drink.

"The data obtained from our surveys indicate that UK students tend to have a work-hard, play-hard mentality," said Andrew Smith, director of the UK Office of Substance Education and Responsibility. "In general, they place a high emphasis on academic achievement but also cope with that stressor through risky substance-related behaviors. These associated behaviors are unfortunately not uncommon for college students and can be effectively addressed through proactive means of education, prevention and policy development."

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray commended the report as a good step forward.

"These steps will have a positive impact, even in neighborhoods that have been changed forever," Gray said. "And they will provide real support in neighborhoods where there is an opportunity to renew and restore. All great cities depend on partners working together. As our community grows and as UK, Transylvania and BCTC grow, we must continue to work together."

Jack Moran, a member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity at UK, said the success of the policy will depend on the details, but "I think the university is going to take the right steps so that they bring it back in a safe and responsible manner. I think it will be safer for students" if they can drink on campus rather than walking around town.

Junior Taylor Pauley said she doesn't drink alcohol and hopes there will be clear rules about when and where students can and cannot drink on campus.

"But I trust the administration to make the best decisions for students," Pauley said.

The alcohol policy work group made several other recommendations, including:

■ Instituting a medical amnesty policy within the student code of conduct for reporting instances of substance abuse or potentially dangerous situations.

■ Encouraging students who live off campus to establish positive relations with neighbors and neighborhoods and provide more formal opportunities for forums that allow UK and the broader community to exchange ideas and discuss concerns.

■ Rehabilitating and leasing university-owned houses and apartments in nearby neighborhoods to faculty and staff.

The changes come as UK works to almost double the number of beds on campus to 9,000. Most of those will be dedicated to housing all freshman and most sophomores, spokesman Jay Blanton said.

Mock said some of the recommendations are aspirational, a way of changing the couch-burning culture that seems so prevalent in March and April.

"Hopefully we can change the culture long term to say, 'We're used to winning; we're not going to do things that are detrimental or our community when we win,'" he said.