Alcohol Bill Means More Liability, Risk

Though not widely reported at Stanford, a new bill known as AB 2486 was signed into law in California this past August. Authorized by Assembly Member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), the Teen Alcohol Safety Act of 2010 will attempt to save more young lives by strengthening consequences for adults who furnish alcoholic beverages to minors. Nonetheless, the impact of this legislation on Stanford’s alcohol policy has thus far appeared to have been relatively limited.

The passage of AB 2486 has further provoked the ongoing discourse over Stanford’s alcohol policy. Both students and administrators have traditionally praised Stanford for adopting a stance that treats students as responsible adults, capable of making their own decisions regarding alcohol.

That said, Stanford is still required to comply with all state and federal laws.

In an interview with the *Review, *Lauren Schoenthaler, senior university counsel in the General Counsel’s Office, discussed Stanford’s alcohol situation: “Stanford has an extensive alcohol education program to inform students about the dangers of excessive drinking.  Additionally, Stanford has procedures in place requiring students to register parties.”

Throughout that process of party registration, Student Activities and Leadership (SAL) under the leadership of Nancy Howe provides many guidelines for alcohol related events in order to ensure a safe atmosphere. As a result, Schoenthaler stresses that “as an institution, Stanford should not face liability for individuals’ decisions regarding providing or consuming alcohol.”

But while the University appears to remain unaffected by this new law, the same cannot be said for students.

Fraternities and Row Houses have always been held accountable by the University for alcohol-related incidents during events. The Kappa Sigma Fraternity is just the most recent example of a student organization being put on short-term alcohol probation for the drinking behavior of a non-resident.

On the topic of fraternity liability, Michael Terrell, president of Sigma Nu, commented, “Just as the drinker chooses to drink, members of fraternities or other houses choose to provide alcohol to many members of the Stanford community. In doing so, I believe we [as a fraternity] do share some responsibility for the welfare of those who drink in our houses. The big question is: to what extent?”

Undoubtedly, throwing an all-campus party at Stanford entails a possibility of people becoming intoxicated. But in recent years, the fear of University punishment for such a scenario occurring has resulted in a general decrease in all-campus parties, according to fraternity leaders.

Further contributing to this problem has been the recent increase in the number of alcohol transports thus far this fall quarter. In a recent *Stanford Daily *op-ed, Drew Karimlou, the former social and rush chair of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, called for all students, particularly freshman, to drink more responsibly. “Otherwise, we’ll stick to private events instead of opening our doors to everyone, which is what we really want to do,” Karimlou argued.

Zachary Warma, house manger of Haus Mitt, said, “There is a sliding scale on what we would deem responsibility between accountability and liability.”

“Every situation really must be judged in context,” he maintained.

Many students and row residents have argued that undertaking responsibility for a party is different from accepting full accountability for all of the guests present. As one multi-year Row House resident said, “When things go badly, Residential Education just needs someone to blame.”

For students, AB 2486 will certainly exacerbate this concern over liability. Schoenthaler predicted that “the law would cause students to reflect on the potential for increased culpability around providing alcohol to each other.” Knowing that any alcohol-related damages or injuries suffered by a student could lead to a civil lawsuit against a host provides a strong disincentive to have events.

Although Residential Education has not yet put into place any new guidelines for staff, Warma maintained that “the prospect of more potential liability is deeply disconcerting.”

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