Saturday, October 31, 2009

Antiquated notions about drinking

From the Parkville Luminary, 10-30-09

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
--Albert Einstein

With apologies to Einstein, I believe we can apply his famous quote to all sorts of areas of public policy. For example, if our policies regarding young people and drinking are ineffective, but we do nothing to change them, are we collectively insane?

There is a federal 21-year old age minimum for legal drinking, signed in 1984, that is enforced in the states by the threat of withholding of federal highway funding. Here in Parkville, Park University is a dry campus. The university’s alcohol and drug policy prohibits “Display and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages/drugs on campus, in campus facilities or at Park-sponsored activities planned for or by students (and) disruption of other persons on the campus and/or to the residence halls by excessive noise, boisterous behavior or violence while under the influence or impaired by alcohol and/or other illegal or illicit substances, etc.”

It’s time to revisit both policies.

At the federal level, the 21-year age restriction has long been assailed by critics, yet the collective stubbornness of our leadership, combined with political pressure, make even discussing a change in this ineffectual policy dicey.

The 21 year old minimum has done nothing to curb binge drinking. Just this summer a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry revealed that, among college-age males, “binge drinking is unchanged from its levels of 1979; that among non-college women it has increased by 20 percent; and that among college women it has increased by 40 percent.” (John McCardell, 9-16-09). Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “despite efforts at prevention, the prevalence of binge drinking among college students is continuing to rise, and so are the harms associated with it." (

Drunk driving accidents and fatalities are way down, thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and tougher legislation and law enforcement. Indeed, of the 5,000 lives lost to alcohol annually for young people under 21, more than 60% of these deaths occur somewhere other than roads and highways. In other words, these lives were lost as a result of clandestine, unsupervised binge drinking. (National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse). Sadly, several students died “off road” recently due to alcohol abuse at the University of Kansas.

This is why, about a year ago, 135 college and university presidents (but not from Park University) signed the Amethyst Initiative, which advanced a proposition for public debate: “Resolved: That the 21-year-old drinking age is not working.” Certainly, no harm can come from at least debating the issue.

By the same token, no harm can come from revisiting Park University’s dry campus regulation. A proposal related to discussing and possibly recommending rescinding the dry campus (for those over 21) was on the agenda at the Park Faculty Senate meeting today. The proposed resolution cited several justifications, including “a culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking” that has developed…(Also), alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students, and adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.”

The faculty senate can only make recommendations. Even if they recommend the repeal of the dry campus policy for those over 21, a final decision on the matter would still have to be made by administration and ultimately the board of trustees.

Failure to discuss these issues, just like employing the same policy over and over again and expecting a different result, is, if not insane, then certainly ill-advised.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Random Thoughts from A to U

From the Parkville Luminary, 10-16-09

Some random thoughts (for me, the phrase “random thoughts” is a redundancy) from A to U (V-Z, I’ll deal with you later):

Afghanistan: Will this be Barak Obama’s Vietnam? Every time I see the president conferring with generals, I think of hapless Lyndon Johnson pouring more and more troops into Vietnam, each time with an official assurance from the Pentagon that victory was just around the corner. President Obama, take your time, but whatever you decide, have a clear mission, and a clear exit strategy. If keeping Al Qaeda on the run is the mission, I’m in. However, nation building seems hopeless. Let’s not be taken in by our successes in Iraq, which is about as different from Afghanistan as Zimbabwe is from Switzerland.

Crescent Peace Eid dinner: I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate brotherhood last Sunday night with the Crescent Peace Society, a group of Muslim-Americans dedicated to spreading goodwill and building fellowship between Muslims and the larger community. Masoom Khawaja, Park University professor of Graphic Design, was honored by the organization as educator of the year. Congratulations, professor. Masoom shatters the tired stereotype of the oppressed, downtrodden Muslim women. Vibrant, educated, and professionally active, she is a role model for all women, and an important symbol for those who would marginalize Muslim women. Islam, like other religions, is diverse. Don’t judge all Muslim women by the burka-wearing women that you see on TV.

Nobel Prize: As Americans, I would hope that we could all be proud of any American who wins a Nobel Prize, particularly a Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon anyone. Of course, given the nasty political climate, that hope is no more than a pipe dream. Of all the negative conservative reaction to Obama’s peace prize, perhaps none stands out as much for its lack of magnanimity as the statement from Rep. Sam Graves, a Tarkio Republican. Graves told the Kansas City Star, “I am surprised because I have no idea why he won. But I congratulate him and I hope he will donate the cash prize toward the $1.6 trillion deficit he ran up this year.”

Mr. Graves, were you also among those cheering when Chicago lost the Olympics to Rio?

To paraphrase the world’s best political pundit, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, it seems that the president’s opponents hate Obama more than they love America.

Park University: I don’t usually put much stock in university rankings, since they seem to put the emphasis on all the wrong things, like the number of celebrity professors or how many millions (or billions) the university has in its endowment. However, I’m willing to make an exception for any ranking that puts Park University at #1. Ingram’s magazine says Park is the top private school in Missouri or Kansas, based on graduate enrollment, tuition costs, housing costs, and student to teacher ratio. I think the last criterion is the most important, since it has such a direct, demonstrable impact on student learning. In 13 years at Park, I have never had a class larger than 25 students, and most of my classes are about 15 students. This allows for the kind of interaction, and the kind of connection, that wasn’t possible in the 150-student classes that I took when I went to college. Not only are the classes small, but they are high quality as well, since Park has many outstanding professors in every discipline. I’m proud to call them colleagues, and I can’t wait until my son enrolls at Park.

Uganda: The Parkville Rotary Club is putting the final touches on its generous donation to the Ociba Primary School in Arua, Uganda, which is being hit hard by a devastating famine. I’ll keep you posted when the final figures come in. Meanwhile, if you are a regular reader, you might recall how I was honored during my recent trip to Uganda to have a baby named after me. Little Stephan (pronounced Stephanie) is four months old, and devastatingly cute. I recently received an email from Stephan’s mom, Gloria, asking me if I would consider being Stephan’s godfather. Of course, I was thrilled, and jumped at the chance. Now I just have to figure out what my official duties are as a Ugandan godfather. I probably should have asked this before I agreed to sign on for this duty.
Big heart makes teacher proud

From the Parkville Luminary, 10-23-09

One of the great things about being a teacher is the way you feel when your students make you proud. For example, my recent graduate who is producing videos for NFL Films makes me proud, as does my former Model UN student who was recently hired as a diplomat at the United Nations.

I also have a number of current students of whom I’m proud, but none more so than Laura Cornett. When my son grows up, I want him to be like Laura (well, not exactly like Laura, but you catch my drift).

Laura is a terrific “A” student, but that’s not why I’m proud of her. She is a hard, dedicated worker, and a real leader among the communications students, but that’s not why I’m proud of her, either, though that’s a good thing.

No, I’m proud of Laura because of the kind of person she is. I haven’t met many people at Park or anywhere else who have a heart as big as Laura’s.

Most of my public relations students seek internships at big, prestigious PR firms, or big corporations with big, well paid PR staffs. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Laura, as you can guess, chose a different path. She chose to do an internship with Synergy Services, which provides “safe places for victims of violence, and empowers survivors to rise above their circumstances and to educate the entire community.” They aided 40,000 people last year. ( Laura created the fundraiser Bake and Share for Synergy to provide funds and positive adult interaction to abused and homeless teens. Her focus with Synergy is on the teens and providing them with an opportunity for them to experience good adult relationships since most of them have had extremely negative experiences. She began her internship, which was supposed to be a semester long, about a year ago. Yet, to her credit, she remains on the (unpaid) job, volunteering her expertise to help improve the lives of battered women.

When she isn’t swamped at Synergy, or keeping up with her classes, Laura volunteers feeding the homeless at least once a month at Cherith Brook. Located at 12th and Benton in Kansas City, Cherith Brook is a residential Christian community that provides resources like showers, clothes, and food to those in need.

I went to Cherith Brook with Laura and Park adjunct professor Eric Garbison a few weeks ago, and got to see Laura in action. It was truly inspiring to see her dive into her task not only with good cheer, but with effervescent enthusiasm. She took charge of the sandwich making, seizing the bread and deli meat like a general seizes a battlefield. Then, she took charge of the egg salad, mixing an enormous batch. When she was done making the egg salad, she asked the other volunteers to taste it. There was silence, save for the occasional cricket chirp. The longer the pregnant pause, I figured, the more “questionable” was her egg salad. After begging a second time, a brave soul finally stepped up and tried it, saying it was “not bad.”

So, after it was determined that the egg salad was probably non-toxic, 60 sandwiches were packed up along with fruit into meal bags, ready for delivery. We hopped in the car, and drove to several locations near Independence Avenue and St. John Street known as homeless “camp sites”. Laura was an expert on where to find the homeless, and when we did, she seemed to know most everyone’s name, greeting them with handshakes, hugs, and the biggest, most genuine grin you’ve ever seen. Laura even managed a smile when she handed a meal to a poor Mexican man, an illegal immigrant, whose foot was grotesquely swollen to three times its normal size. I was told that when he was making the crossing to the states, that he was bitten on the foot by a rattlesnake.

Laura never said anything judgmental about these people, which is hard since so many of the homeless are drug addicts, and so much of their pain is self-inflicted. I didn’t ask her, but I don’t think Laura, or the other volunteers, care how these downtrodden got this way. I think what matters is that they need help.

I never thought to ask Laura why she helps the homeless, or volunteers at Syngery, or why when she graduates she’ll be looking for low-paying job at a non-profit doing some high-importance work. I think some others help because they figure it’s a ticket to heaven, or maybe conversely a way to avoid hell, but I’m pretty sure that’s not why Laura does what she does. I think, for her, it’s all about listening to her heart.

I am proud of Laura Cornett and her really big heart.