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August 26, 2013

New UVM Fines Aim to Deter Marijuana and Alcohol Abuse

Dreamstime_m_28053840University of Vermont students caught on campus with drugs and alcohol this year are paying a price. With advice from a national group of schools, Vermont’s largest university is implementing new fines for students caught doing drugs, and upping the fines for those with too much booze on hand. And since UVM is a dry-halls campus, they apply even for students 21 and older.

Annie Stevens, vice provost for student affairs at UVM, says the new fines are intended to serve as a deterrent, not to make a mint for the university — though they’re likely to do both.

According to Stevens, UVM signed onto the National College Health Improvement Program two years ago. Founded in 2011 by then-president of Dartmouth College Jim Kim, the program includes 32 member schools collaborating to reduce high-risk drinking. UVM's decision to implement its new fines, says Stevens, was based on that program.

So, what are the fines? $250 for possessing a “common source” of alcohol — that’s 12 servings or more; $150 for empties found during routine Health and Safety inspections of dorm rooms; $150 for a student's first drug offense; and $250 for the second drug offense. The common source fine went up this year from $150, and all the other fines are new this year, Stevens says.

And that's not all. A single broken-up dorm-room party can result in more than one common source or drug violation, Stevens says. Say you have a dorm room with eight underage students in possession of three beers each — they would get the common source fine. Technically, Stevens says, the university could charge the fine to each student in the room, raking in two grand. But Stevens says that hardly ever happens. It’s more likely that during the hearing process, a single student would own up to bringing a case of beer and only that student would have to pay up.

Where will all the money go? A portion will pay for an online program that will be mandatory for students caught with marijuana. eCheckup To Go, developed at San Diego State University, is designed to help students make better choices. Students self-report which substances — and how much — they use, and the program crunches numbers to assess their risk level, offering resources for changing their behavior.

Revenue generated by the fines will also go toward activities — such as movie-and-pizza nights — that Resident Assistants host as alternatives to staying in a dorm room with a funnel and a case of beer. The increased funding, Stevens says, will mean better programs that reward students who aren’t drinking with a fun activity.

How much money are we talking about here? Stevens says they don’t know.

"We haven't done that projection yet,” Stevens says. “Our whole hope is that it's actually a deterrent so that the numbers go down."

 

The eCheckup To Go program costs universities $975.00, according to the program website. That’s for unlimited use, not per student. According to Stevens’ data, the university had 301 drug cases in the 2011-2012 school year (last year’s statistics are temporarily unavailable due to a system upgrade). Even if all 301 of those were first offenses, that’d be $45,150 in revenue for the university under the new system.

As for alcohol, Stevens says there were 719 alcohol cases at UVM that year, though there's no way to tell how many were common source and would therefore trigger fines.

Stevens says the university is trying to “make our guidelines more transparent than ever before — and clearer — so that students understand, 'So what does this mean if I do this, or if I do this?'"

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