It’s not a czar: It’s an educator.
That about sums up the University’s vision for Yale’s first-ever director of alcohol and substance abuse initiatives, a new Dean’s Office post the University is trying to fill by fall 2009. The director, administrators said, will be tasked with centralizing the University’s broad but scattered resources for drug and alcohol education while working to raise awareness of and challenge misperceptions about substance abuse on campus. Although the Dean’s Office has yet to define many of the specifics of the new post’s portfolio, in interviews administrators were emphatic about one point: the director will not be an enforcer.
“I view this person as a real partner to students and organizations,” said Assistant Athletic Director Amy Backus, who serves on the search committee charged with recruiting someone for the post, “not as someone who’s going to come in, lay down the law and tell people what they can and can’t do.”
Alcohol education is currently handled by a decentralized network of staff that includes residential-college deans and masters, health professionals and officials within the Dean’s Office, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said. Together, their goal is to make sure every student understands the effects of drinking and how to drink responsibly, if they choose to do so. But because of the volume of administrators involved, Gentry said the University’s message becomes diluted and can lose focus. The new director would assume responsibility for those efforts and consolidate the University’s information and outreach efforts inside the Dean’s Office.
“People are getting misinformation,” Gentry said. “Having the right information from one person and one source is better than having an approach that’s not systematic.”
The director would spearhead the rollout of new programming geared toward offering alternative social events for students looking to have fun in a dry setting. An information campaign to correct misperceptions about drinking on campus could also be on the new director’s agenda, said psychology professor Will Corbin, who also serves on the search committee. Freshmen Orientation also could see a more formalized substance-abuse-education program than it does today, Corbin said.
“It’s hard to say exactly what those programs will be,” Corbin said. “A lot depends on who fills the position.”
And on what, ultimately, administrators decide they want from the new post. Recommendations outlined in a 2006 report from the Yale Committee on Alcohol Policy provided much of the foundation of the director’s job description, Corbin said, but the search committee has “shaped further the ideas that came out of that document.”
A search for the director began in April, initially with the hope that the position could be filled by the start of classes two weeks ago. But as the nationwide search moves into month six and applications for the job continue to arrive from around the country, administrators said they have shifted their timetable and now expect the director to start next year. Gentry said the search is not limited to candidates holding similar jobs at other universities.
“We’re branching out a little because there are people with this kind of skill who might be doing something else,” he said. “We want somebody who can present information factually and in a style that people will understand and ask questions about the issue.”
Backus added that the candidate’s “fit” with the University would be evaluated, and he stressed the need to find someone who would mesh well with Yale’s campus culture. That culture rests on what Corbin termed a “harm-reduction” approach of allowing students to make their own decisions with regards to alcohol while providing resources to both prevent and treat substance abuse.
“This is not a ‘We need to bring somebody in to enforce underage drinking more,’” Corbin said. “Amnesty for students who are intoxicated is something everyone wants to see continue.”