In light of the increasing problem of binge drinking on college campuses, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg was honored with the 2009 Presidential Leadership Award for his role in overseeing the university’s mission to combat high-risk drinking.
Sarah Bauknecht of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the Gordie Foundation and Outside the Classroom present the annual award and a $50,000 prize to the college or university whose president has demonstrated outstanding leadership against alcohol abuse.
“I was not aware that any of this was happening until I was notified of my selection,” said Nordenberg, who was nominated for the award by Kathy Humphrey, University of Pittsburgh’s vice provost and dean of students.
Brandon Busteed, founder and CEO of Outside the Classroom, a supplier of high school and college curricula related to drinking education and prevention, established the award more than a year ago with the Gordie Foundation, an organization committed to alcohol education. It was founded by the parents of Lynn Gordon Bailey Jr., a freshman at the University of Colorado who died of alcohol poisoning.
“All of us felt that all the positive work that is being done isn’t recognized,” Busteed said, adding, “It’s a pretty rigorous vetting process.”
A panel composed of representatives from a number of education and anti-drinking organizations reviewed the applications of the roughly 20 presidents nominated this year. Nominees received scores in four categories: leadership, community involvement, innovation, and letter of support.
Nordenberg caught the panel’s attention because of his active role in working with campus administrators and members of the community to address high-risk drinking.
“Anyone who is connected with college or university life has to recognize that drinking is a part of it and that there will be challenges that will inevitably arise from student drinking,” Nordenberg said. “The approach that we have taken really is a combination of emphasizing educational initiatives and then also trying to provide alternate forms of socializing that are not so heavily dependent on alcohol.”
First-year students are required to complete an online alcohol education course before they begin classes. Nordenberg reiterates the consequences of alcohol in his welcome address to students and parents, a tradition that stems from advice a former dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s nursing school shared with him a number of years ago before one of his sons started college.
“She said, ‘If there is one thing I would tell your son, it’s that drinking to excess does not mix with anything,’”Nordenberg said. “If that’s a message I should deliver to my son, it’s a message I should deliver more broadly, and it’s a message we want to be spreading and highlighting through the Office of Student Life.”
This message is spread through peer education programs, training programs for residence life advisers that focus on alcohol education, and a number of alcohol-free campus activities.
One social spot on campus that offers drinking alternatives is Nordy’s Place, the student recreation room in the William Pitt Union. The student government voted in 2007 to name it after the chancellor when he approved the funding for the room.
Annual campus surveys studying students’ drinking habits suggest these programs may be working. Recent survey results have shown a 49 percent drop in students claiming they’ve experienced negative academic consequences because of drinking, a 12 percent decline in binge drinking, and a 9 percent increase in students who identify themselves as non-drinkers.
Nordenberg said he hopes the university will reinvest the award money in alcohol education programs. He also hopes the award will send a positive message to the university, the community and potential students and their families.
“I certainly think it will send a message … [that] we are creating a social environment here that is not dependent upon alcohol. That will make the university more attractive to both [potential] students and the family members who will be participating in their college selection process,” he said.