March 20 , 2006
Task forces tackle tough issues facing Emory
BY alfred charles
A trio of University committees created last year to study social issues on the Emory campus are set to take their next steps, now that two of them have issued final reports and the third is preparing to move forward.
The President’s Task Force on Mental Health and the President’s Task Force on Alcohol and Other Drugs have both completed their fact-finding missions and submitted reports to the president’s office. Although both documents have been handed over, they have not yet been fully endorsed by President Jim Wagner’s administration.
Wagner said he is pleased with many elements contained in both reports.
“Their work has been excellent [and is] a genuine convergence of their expert knowledge and of their deep passion to make a difference,” he said, adding that the findings of both groups are currently under consideration.
The third panel, the Committee on Work-Life Initiatives, is set to hold a meeting this week to continue its work.
“We want to try and develop guiding principles that will enhance work-life for faculty, students and staff,” said Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the University
who, along with Peter Barnes, Human Resources vice president, is chairing the committee.
The panel, which has up to 40 members, has been charged with drawing up a plan to address the challenges of integrating and balancing work and family life in an academic setting. Magee said the committee is still trying to determine its methodology, but she said one thing the panel hopes to do is examine best practices, used by the 100 best employers in corporate America, to see if any can be translated to a university setting.
She said the committee expects to have its guiding principles in place by the end of spring semester.
As that committee is gearing up, the other two task forces are moving forward as well. Panelists on both committees conducted research on past campus practices and interviewed officials at Emory’s peer institutions to see what other schools are doing.
Officials with the mental health group, which submitted its report in December, said the next step is to gather input about its recommendations from faculty, staff and students during a series of focus groups and surveys over the next few months. The next move would likely be a campuswide campaign next year designed to erase the stigma around those who seek help for mental help issues.
“I am pleased with the report,” said Mark McLeod, director of the Counseling Center and chair of the task force. “Our charge was to do a needs assessment and make proposals that would have a positive effect on our community. I think we did it.”
The committee members include co-chair Paula Gomes, director of the Faculty/Staff Assistance Program; Thom Bornemann, director of The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program; Ben Druss, associate professor of health policy management in the Rollins School of Public Health; and psychiatry Professor Steven Levy.
A key component of the group’s plan is the creation of a nationally recognized and accredited interdisciplinary service and training facility that would combine three things under one roof: a student health services center, a student counseling center and a treatment program to help faculty and staff. McLeod said such a program would be a model for others in higher education.
Said McLeod: “If we do it, folks will be very interested in how we did it.”
Other ideas presented in the mental health task force report include:
• Increasing involvement of campus mental health professionals in the University’s deliberation of health issues, insurance benefits and access, and master planning.
• Raising awareness about mental health and reducing stigma tied to those who seek treatment.
According to the report, nine students died between fall 1995 and spring 2004 from issues related to mental health. During the same time period, eight faculty and staff members died from similar circumstances.
McLeod said his panel’s work, if fully implemented, could prevent future tragedies.
“I think this is going to prevent some deaths,” he said. “Not all, but some.”
The ideas suggested by the Task Force on Alcohol and Other Drugs are also aimed at preventing future tragedies.
Wagner appointed the three-member panel, which was chaired by Michael Huey, executive director of Student Health Services, and included Karen Drexler, associate professor of psychiatry and director of substance abuse treatment, and Claire Sterk, senior vice provost for academic planning and faculty development.
Huey was out of town and not immediately available to comment at length about the panel’s work. Drexler and Sterk said they were both pleased with the results.
“I think it’s a good start, but there is much to be done,” Drexler said.
Sterk echoed that sentiment.
“This is a trigger for more dialogue,” she said. “We need to first get the topic on the table and trigger a collaborative approach to finding solutions.”
Wagner said his administration is seeking “broader comment” on the alcohol and drug committee’s report. To that end, he said the Intersorority and Interfraternity councils have offered to seek input from Greeks on the implementation of new programs that would “shape the character of social activities on campus in a way that would reduce high risk alcohol use.”
Committee members interviewed a broad cross section of the campus population while compiling their report. The group concluded that many people at Emory believe there is a problem with alcohol. “At the risk of over simplifying, the consensus seemed to be that: ‘Emory has a substantial and worsening problem with high-risk drinking and drug use among its student body and it needs to address this problem before being forced to do so by a high profile incident such as a student death or an episode of violence,’” the report says
The panel also drew upon the work of a 2004 study that gauged drug and alcohol use on campus. That group found that binge drinking among Emory freshmen for the reporting period of 2002-2003 exceeded the national average. The report also concluded that Emory’s culture revolves around a “work hard, play hard” ethic that often involves alcohol.
And yet, Drexler and Sterk’s panel found a consensus among interviewees that illicit drug and alcohol use should be eliminated from campus.
To that end, the committee’s ideas include:
• Creating a single campuswide policy on alcohol that is publicized to parents and throughout the University community. “There are a long list of policies dealing with this issue that seem to contradict each other,” Sterk said.
• Forming a steering committee that will guide the creation and implementation of educational programs to raise awareness about the consequences of alcohol and drugs. The committee would also work with campus stakeholders to create a grassroots effort to address problems linked to alcohol and drugs.
• Creating a set of consequences on campus for those that violate substance abuse policies. This punishment would be in addition to those imposed by law enforcement officers. Under the panel’s plan, the consequences would get stiffer for each violation. For example, a second offense for running afoul of campus drinking rules would result in mandatory counseling and a $25 fine; a third offense would include the earlier sanctions as well as suspension from University classes, extracurricular activities and dorms, and a higher fine; a fourth offense would subject the student to a higher fine and suspension for a semester; while a fifth offense would lead to expulsion.
• Requiring the use of Emory Card readers at all events where alcohol and students are present to ensure that only those over the age of legal consent are allowed to consume alcohol.
• The implementation of a course schedule for undergraduates in which Friday morning course offerings are required, an effort to deter students from overindulging the night before.
Drexler and Sterk said the next step could be the formation of a steering committee to implement the report’s findings.