An Open Letter to the University Community

The following message to students was published in

The Daily Pennsylvanian Friday, March 26,

and is reprinted here for the larger community.

Alcohol Abuse: The Steps We Must Take

A member of our Penn family is dead. His death was premature. His death was tragic. His death was alcohol-related.

The full gravity of alcohol abuse has now landed squarely in the heart of our campus. Even as we mourn the loss of alumnus Michael Tobin, a 1994 graduate of the College, we must take action to prevent another such tragedy. As an initial step, we have suspended Phi Gamma Delta, the fraternity where Michael Tobin died. It will remain on suspension until investigations by the University and the fraternity's national organization are concluded. This is the third serious alcohol-related fraternity infraction on campus this year.

The course of action we announce here comes after careful thought and many months of collaboration with students to raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol abuse and to create a host of social activities on campus that are not defined by alcohol. We have made progress together in achieving a healthier, more vibrant academic and social environment. Witness the efforts of D.A.R.T.; Winterfest and Lovefest; last spring's Pancake Breakfast; a new class on alcohol and behavior; a new campus coffeehouse; a new late-night diner; Penn P.M., which offers fun, late-night events in the College Houses; Writers House and Civic House, which are always humming.

However, as the events of last weekend have made all too clear, the message is still not getting through loudly enough or strongly enough. Too many Penn students--a distinct minority, but still too many--either can't or won't hear.

We are among the many, many members of the Penn community--faculty, administrators, students, and staff--who care deeply about you. We want you to have the best education and the best experience here during your college years. We want you to be healthy and we want you to be safe.

The University's alcohol and drug policy (on-line at is clear. It prohibits underage drinking and the supply of alcohol to underage and inebriated individuals, and specifies that University disciplinary sanctions will be imposed, in addition to the sanctions imposed by federal, state, and local authorities for violations of the law.

The following steps will guide the University's actions over the next month, particularly during Skimmer and Spring Fling. In the long-term, we mean to consider, with counsel from a number of students, faculty, and professionals around the University, the future of alcohol at Penn. In the interim, the steps we will take are:

  • As of today [March 26], the policy allowing alcohol to be served at registered undergraduate parties is suspended. We will immediately enter into serious and substantive discussion with student and faculty leadership with regard to the nature and duration of this suspension and of additional measures that should be taken.
  • If the University discovers that alcohol is served at any party to either minors or already intoxicated individuals, then the hosts will bear full responsibility for their actions. Students and organizations found to be in breach of University regulations will be sanctioned according to the University's alcohol and drug policy.
  • At Skimmer, which occurs off-campus, we will firmly support enforcement by the Philadelphia Police of city and state alcohol regulations.
  • At Spring Fling, we will strongly enforce the University's alcohol policy. Officers from our Division of Public Safety and Liquor Control Enforcement agents will be present throughout the weekend. There will be no post-Fling block party on Sansom Street.
  • Notice of the University's alcohol policy and our enforcement of it is being given to area bars, restaurants, and alcohol suppliers, and we expect their help and cooperation.

We take these steps out of concern for every person on this campus. We know that the large majority of Penn students do not abuse alcohol, but we also know that alcohol-related events traditionally escalate during the final weeks of the academic year. In the wake of last weekend, we are taking these steps because we do not want another member of our Penn family to be a victim of alcohol abuse. That must never happen again.


 --Judith Rodin, President  --Robert L. Barchi, Provost


Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 26, March 30, 1999