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2010 Winter Issue 5 (February 12, 2010)

Changes to institutional event alcohol policy: Student ramifications possible

February 12, 2010
By Ben Blink

In a policy officially enacted early fall term, the vice president and treasurer’s office mandated that alcohol served at institutional events must be purchased and served by Bon Appétit, the college’s licensed caterer. The rule applies to any events sponsored or scheduled by one or more academic departments or administrative offices to take place on campus for members of the Carleton College community.

Previously, college employees and departments could provide and serve alcohol in accordance with the laws of the state of Minnesota at events like Alumni Reunion, Family Weekend, Convocation receptions, and Homecoming Weekend. The new rule holds event sponsors responsible for purchasing alcohol through Bon Appétit, as well as hiring a licensed caterer to serve to attendees.   

According to Dan Bergeson, Carleton’s liaison to Bon Appétit, the new rule was implemented primarily to protect the college from legal and liability issues associated with serving alcohol.   

“The issue first came up regarding reunion,” Bergeson said. “Part of the fee alumni pay for the event covers alcohol, and in the state of Minnesota you need a liquor license to serve alcohol.” Bergeson said the college looked at getting a liquor license for the institution, but found that a special legislative exemption would be required.   

Historically, Carleton’s employee holiday party served a spiked punch, but in the last two years the college stopped serving the punch partly due to the liability risk. Bergeson said that at these events no one was charged with taking control of inventory, which left the college partly responsible for any unlawful or dangerous activity that resulted from the events.    

While the new policies do not apply to student sponsored activities, many are wondering whether the liability concerns will lead to new rules regarding college sanctioned events like Mai Fete and Rottblatt. According to Associate Dean of Students Julie Thorton, committees will be formed this spring for the first review of the student alcohol policy in ten years.
“A review doesn’t mean an overhaul,” Thorton said, “but we need to talk with lots of people including RAs and hospitals to see what works and what doesn’t.”

Thorton said that from a liability and safety perspective, students serving other students at college sanctioned events are a problem.  For Mai Fete, student hosts are currently responsible for serving and adhering to local and state law. While Throton said that she doubts that an alcohol review would lead to a greater policing of student rooms and private activity, it is important that the college sponsors events that provide alcohol legally.

Currently, ad hoc student groups fundraise for both Mai Fete and Rottblatt and the Campus Activities staff signs off on the event locations. A rule mandating that students purchase alcohol through Bon Appétit as well as hire caterers would significantly increase costs for both events. 

“There is a difference between students and college employees, though,” Bergeson said. “Students are residents here, and staff members are not.” Bergeson did say that for the sake of the college’s liability, extending the policy to students would be a good thing. 

The policy regarding alcohol service at college events is available through the vice president and treasurer’s office webpage.

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