New approach, same bureaucracy

Alcohol policy and the administration


Last week, in an email sent to all Stanford undergraduates, the Office for the Vice Provost of Student Affairs promised, in its own words, “a new approach” to alcohol policy on campus. In vague terms, the message detailed a supposed epidemic of binge drinking on campus and a series of forthcoming administrative efforts to curtail it.

All of these claims came without any obvious motivating factors or hard data to justify them. But nonetheless, the email made clear that the administration is hell-bent on addressing the matter with every bureaucratic tool they can invent.

The renewed efforts that the email entails are laughable given the existing administrative infrastructure that already surrounds alcohol consumption on this campus. The Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE) nominally holds responsibility over the matter but ResEd, the Office for Fraternity & Sorority Life, the Office for Student Affairs, the Stanford Police Department and the SARA Office (among others) all additionally play their own roles in deciding what, where and how students drink.

The resulting amalgamation of red tape and expensive administrators is a financial quagmire funded by your own tuition dollars. OAPE alone maintains no fewer than six full time employees, an unfathomably high number for an office whose job is effectively to convince a relatively small undergraduate body to drink less. Stanford attempting to regulate how students spend their free time is nothing new, but the email’s notion that even more administrative presence will serve as some sort of antidote is astoundingly out of touch. This University however, is no stranger to bloat.

Stanford currently maintains 31 different provosts and directors, which themselves can host numerous smaller groups and divisions. The Office for Student Affairs (that originally called for more administrative response to campus drinking) alone has 28 sub-offices (of which OAPE is one) and six associate vice provosts under its umbrella. This ivory-tower brain trust appears to have come to the conclusion that the only way to solve a problem is to create more offices to regulate it.

And indeed, the aforementioned email would suggest just as much. In it, Provost Persis Drell and Vice Provost Susie Brubaker-Cole promise to create an “Alcohol Solutions Group” and a “Stanford Law School Policy Practicum on Alcohol Use Among Stanford Undergraduates,” to invest more in “training, support, resources,” to expand existing programs including Cardinal Nights and 5-Sure, and to “compile data on Stanford student alcohol consumption,” among other new measures and initiatives.

Creating additional layers of apparatchiks and regulations is frustrating under even the best of circumstances. To do so however, for something as trifling as campus drinking culture is completely dumbfounding. When combined with all of the already existing offices and university schemes, the resulting administrative beast is enough to infuriate any objective viewer.

A further point of confusion is the justification for the heightened scrutiny of student alcohol consumption. Stanford itself claims that rates of freshman drinking and hard alcohol consumption are down, while on a national level, binge drinking amongst youths is decreasing. On a less quantitative note, no one can claim that Stanford is a crazier place than it was 20, 10 or even five years ago, or that its drinking culture is becoming more dangerous. The truth in fact is quite the opposite.

Last week’s email then, and the ensuing measures it promises, would seem to be, at best, unnecessary, but more likely, outright harmful. Its headline-inducing lead quote, “We cannot turn away from this” is almost comedic in its self-seriousness and lack of nuance. The sentiment it expresses, however, represents the marriage of helicopter-parent attitudes and the misguided notion that administrative expansion is the solution to all the school’s problems, real or imagined. Stanford needs to recognize the fallibility of its own bureaucracy. Until then, it will continue to grow, unchecked by the bounds of reasonability, and with it, administrative reach will infringe further upon student life.

Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’

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Harrison Hohman is a junior from Omaha, Nebraska majoring in Economics and Iberian-Latin American Cultures. He enjoys sports, politics, music, and other stereotypical college-age interests, and ties far too much of his self-worth to his middling abilities on the pool table . You can find him at Kappa Sig, the Huang basement or the rejected pile at Goldman.