University of Tennessee to consider allowing alcohol at certain campus events


University of Tennessee administration will consider sweeping changes to the university’s alcohol policy that would allow beer and wine at certain on-campus events.

The possible changes to what has been a dry campus are based on recommendations from a task force put in place in 2017.

UT Knoxville established the Alcohol Policy Task Force — consisting of students, faculty, academic deans and staff, alumni, community members and administrators — to consider whether the university’s alcohol policy should be revised.

Senior leadership at the university will review the report and determine which recommendations should be forwarded to UT System President Joe DiPietro for further consideration.

Vice Chancellor for Student Life Vince Carilli and student body president Ovi Kabir held a news conference Friday afternoon to discuss the recommendations.

The recommendations of the task force include the following:

  • Recommendation No. 1: The University of Tennessee Knoxville adopt a policy in which the distribution, possession and consumption of alcohol by individuals aged 21 or over is allowed at preapproved, registered on-campus events, within the parameters of all state, federal and local laws;
  • Recommendation No. 2: Under this policy, all individuals aged 21 and over, including university students, should be permitted to consume alcohol at approved events;
  • Recommendation No. 3: Beer and wine are the only types of alcohol that should be allowed to be served at university-sanctioned events. Common source alcohol and liquor should be strictly prohibited.

Over eight months, the task force reviewed research and policies at peer institutions and considered input from the university community, constituents, public safety experts, student groups and others in making its report.

The report said, in part: “At the conclusion of the review and deliberation of these materials, the members of the Task Force unanimously agreed that it would be in the best interest of the University to revise the current alcohol policy to allow the lawful possession, consumption, and … distribution of alcohol on campus at specially permitted, registered events.”

Carilli said, “Really, this is creating a policy that speaks to practice that already occurs where there may be some inconsistencies.”

Student interest high

Part of the task force’s collection efforts included a public survey in February about the issue. Within an hour of putting it online, about 2,000 people responded, according to Carilli. In the weeks following, the number doubled. 

University of Tennessee spokeswoman Megan Boehnke said 3,000 of the 4,053 responses to the survey were from University students. 

“There was an appetite for really digging into this question and looking at it,” Carilli said.

“Students are happy about this (proposed) change,” Kabir said. “They’re looking forward to something happening.”

Kabir said students have been petitioning university administration to reassess the university’s alcohol policy for several years. 

Reduce alcohol abuse?

Kabir said one of the hopes of creating a new policy is to reduce student binge drinking, which he said affects up to 40 percent of undergraduate students.

The Student Government Association (SGA) and Greek community have said the current policy is antiquated, targets students under 21 and encourages consumption of alcohol at off-campus locations.

“Getting to these sites can come with negative side effects, such as drunk driving and walking alone at night in unsafe areas,” the student organizations said in the report. 

They also pointed out nine other Southeastern Conference schools allow alcohol at university-sponsored events. 

“The idea really is something along the lines of, if you can have a drink or two in a safe, controlled environment, the need or desire to binge decreases,” Carilli explained. 

“We can create an environment, a safe environment, so students know it is permitted in a controlled environment.”

Carilli also said it provides UT with an opportunity to teach students about the role alcohol plays in their lives, and how to consume a drink in a professional setting. 

One limitation, however, is an SEC rule against alcohol availability at athletic contests, so, Carilli said, a policy change would not necessarily affect university game-day and tailgate culture. 

“It’s important to note when we think about tailgating, those are usually seven or eight times a year,” he said. “I think that the policy potentially has a much broader impact than what happens on game day.” 

Next steps

When asked whether any or all of the recommendations are likely to be approved, Carilli said he thought there was a strong possibility some would.

However, “I would not commit to all of them being accepted.” 

And as far as how any of the suggestions would be implemented, that’s not yet clear, he said.

But he added that he hopes with an event-based policy change, event planners would ask permission to provide alcohol when they register with the university, and then the alcohol would be provided by a third-party vendor that could monitor its distribution. 

Carilli said he has shared the task force report with interim Chancellor Wayne Davis and Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Tim Cross. In the coming months, the chancellor’s Cabinet will complete its review and decide which recommendations should be forwarded to DiPietro.

Then DiPietro likely would bring the recommendations to the Board of Trustees for consideration and approval.

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