After a day’s work, students at Vassar College, Middlebury College and soon Trinity College can drop into a campus pub to have a beer or socialize. Wesleyan, however, recently shot down a proposal for a University-affiliated bar at WesWings.
“I discussed all of this with President Roth several weeks ago and we are both in agreement that this is not something that we want to pursue further given the issues and obstacles associated with the idea,” Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley was quoted in a Sept. 19 Argus article, “Buzz Kill: Administration ices campus pub proposal.” “Rather than Wes getting into this arena, we think students who are of legal age can easily walk to any number of establishments that serve alcohol on or near Main Street.”
While there are several bars within walking distance to Vassar, the school also has its own pub—“Matthew’s Mug,” named after Matthew Vassar, the college’s founder. Unusual for campus bars, “Matthew’s Mug” serves hard liquor.
According to Brian Farkas, a junior at Vassar College and Editor-in-Chief of the Miscellany News—the school’s official newspaper—the pub is newly renovated and does much more than serve alcohol.
“It actually just underwent a renovation as a result of the Class of 2006 Senior Gift,” Farkas wrote in an e-mail to the Argus. “It now features new flooring, a new counter area and a fancy DJ booth. Unlike many campus pubs, it’s open all week long and hosts various student organization evenings. For example, our feminist group holds a special ’Mug Night,’ and we have specially themed nights around jazz and ’80s music.”
Although Trinity College does not currently have a pub, plans are in the works, as the school has recently hired architects to draw out plans for one. President James F. Jones, Jr. supports the pub and is eagerly awaiting its construction.
“I keep hoping we could get it done this academic year,” Jones said in an interview with the Argus.
Like many proponents of on-campus pubs, Jones believes that a bar will help promote safety and responsible drinking. Over the course of his career at various colleges and universities, Jones has lost five students in alcohol-related deaths. He said that he never wants to call parents again about drinking-related fatalities.
“I don’t want to do that ever again,” Jones said. “It’s the hardest telephone call any of us ever makes as university presidents.”
It has yet to be decided if underage students will be allowed into Trinity’s new pub to enjoy the space. The college has struggled with underage drinking in the past. According to an article in the April 17, 2007 issue of the Trinity Tripod—the school’s official newspaper—44 students were arrested or ticketed for underage drinking at the only nearby off-campus bar during a police raid last April. The Tap Café, where the raid took place, has since closed down.
Like Wesleyan, Middlebury College has bars within walking distance. President Ronald Liebowitz, however, says he feels better if students drink on campus.
“I prefer students to be on campus drinking because downtown is still a walk away,” Liebowitz said in an interview with the Argus. “It’s pretty cold in the winter and I’d feel much better.”
Middlebury actually has two establishments that serve alcohol: “The Grill” and “The Bunker”. “The Grill” turned 10 years old this past June and serves alcohol six days a week. “The Bunker” is three years old and serves alcohol on Fridays.
According to Matthew Biette, the Dining Services Director at Middlebury, “The Bunker” is completely managed and serviced by students, who work closely with Biette to make sure that regulations are followed. While Biette admitted that unruly behavior and instances of customers slipping alcohol to underage students aren’t uncommon, he also noted that the pub staff is strict.
“We don’t have a problem cutting people off and asking them to leave,” he said.
Unlike Vassar’s pub, the bars at Middlebury do not serve hard liquor. Biette spoke about the safety risks of serving hard liquor and the binge drinking culture on college campuses.
“At the risk of sounding preachy, there is an attitude about drinking which has a lot to do about binging,” he said. “It’s not alcohol for the appreciation, but for getting loaded. It’s safer to not serve hard alcohol.”
Biette emphasized that the bar is only a secondary function to the dining establishments.
“We’re looking at it as a service,” he said. “We’re not providing a watering hole. The bunker is a night club that also serves alcohol.”
Both Liebowitz and Jones have signed the Amethyst Initiative, a movement of chancellors and presidents from universities and colleges across the United States that calls for a national conversation to consider lowering the drinking age to 18. John McCardell, the former president of Middlebury, began the initiative in July 2008, and Liebowitz and Jones have both worked closely with him. The initiative has recently come under fire from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the New York Times Editorial Board.
“Certainly, surreptitious drinking can lead to excessive drinking, but that does not justify the college executives’ conclusion that ’21 is not working’ where binge drinking is concerned,” the New York Times Sept. 16, 2008 editorial read. “The 21-year-old floor is not the problem. It is the culture of drinking at school.”
Liebowitz said he signed the initiative not necessarily because he thinks lowering the drinking age is the right thing to do, but because he thinks the idea should at least be discussed.
“I signed the initiative to get the issue on the table,” Liebowitz said. “[The age limit] may be good for the overall population, but it’s not working on campus. My personal opinion is different from my presidential opinion.”
Jones said that it’s unfair that students who are 18 cannot drink, but have other adult rights and responsibilities.
“It seems counterintuitive to me that an 18-year-old can enlist in the Army, marry, vote, sign contracts and serve on a jury,” Jones said. “Why you’re not responsible enough to order a beer is beyond my comprehension. If there’s anything we learned in the years of the Prohibition, is that it didn’t work.”
The Amethyst Initiative currently has 130 signatures belonging to chancellors and university presidents. President Michael Roth has not signed the initiative.
Ultimately, Jones believes that reducing the age limit will benefit students.
“Students are going to drink,” Jones said. “Trying to teach responsibility is why schools exist.”
News Editor Lydia Tomkiw contributed reporting to this story.