By Nate Albright
David Matthew Kearns, a 24-year-old student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was set to graduate in December. When his father was unable to contact him the weekend of Nov. 3, he called the state police.
When state police found Kearns at 11:30 p.m. Nov. 5, it was too late – Kearns was dead. An autopsy revealed a heroin caused Kearns’ death.
Another death, another black eye for IUP, a university that has seen an increase in drug- and alcohol-related deaths during the past few years. To some, the drug deaths are a new and more virulent form of risky behavior rooted in a beer-soaked party-school reputation.
In a student survey conducted in 1999 as part of the Alcohol Summit Action Plan, 347 of 438 students surveyed – or 79 percent — agreed that IUP has a party-school image. Just 55 students surveyed – 16 percent — disagreed.
The same survey showed students said not enough alternative activities were available in Indiana County to curb alcohol use. Of the 438 students surveyed, 236 – 54 percent – said alcohol-free activities were not to be found locally.
“There is a problem on campus when people come because IUP has the reputation as a party school,” Sara Burleson, 20, a resident assistant in Scranton Hall, said in an interview Dec. 5. “We need more alcohol-free alternatives.”
Despite the 1999 survey results, some IUP officials say the party-school label is unwarranted and blown out of proportion.
“I think the party-school image is an old reputation for almost every college in the nation,” Michelle Fryling, IUP director of media relations, said in a Nov. 28 telephone interview from her Sutton Hall office. “It’s a holdover from a common belief that students like to party. It’s a negative image portrayed from movies, and it’s undeserved and not like that at all.”
However, the number of alcohol-related offenses increased from 2003 to 2005, according to a crime report on IUP’s Web site. In 2003, 281 alcohol-related crimes were reported to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Police Department, campus officials and other law enforcement agencies at the Indiana Campus. That number jumped to 347 in 2005, an increase of 23 percent.
The number of reported drug-related crimes, however, declined. A total of 81 drug-related crimes were reported in 2003. In 2005, that number dropped to 50, a decrease of 38 percent.
Fryling said IUP is making strides to curb the use of drugs and alcohol and to erase the party image from the university.
“Our president is doing a lot in way of education to cure the whole party-school image, and IUP is taking giant steps in the right direction,” Fryling said.
Burleson said stricter alcohol sanctions need to be established and students need to find people to look up to for help and decision-making.
“The students already have the information and the education that they need,” Burleson said. “I think they just need more alternatives and need to establish good relationships with their RAs, professors or other positive role models. Other than that, if they really want to change the levels of drinking, they really need to crack down on it harder – but I don’t really see that happening anytime soon, unfortunately.”
Recently, Alcoholics Anonymous began holding meetings on campus. Also, the university holds close ties with The Open Door, an alcohol and drug treatment center on Philadelphia Street. These services, along with harsher penalties for underage drinking and supplying minors with alcohol, are being taken after a series of alcohol and drug-related deaths on campus in the past 18 months.
After a mixer at the Theta Chi fraternity, freshman Craig Sheehan, 18, committed suicide at his apartment on Sept. 30, 2005. The death sent shockwaves through the IUP community and caused President Tony Atwater to put a temporary probation on Greek Homecoming activities. Although the probation was lifted less than a day later, due in part to student and alumni complaints – led by then-Student Government Association President Nikki Norris — it served as a warning to the IUP community.
Sheehan’s death came a little more than seven months after Michael McGoyne, 20, was found dead in his room at the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity house. According to Indiana County Coroner Michael Baker, McGoyne had been using heroin and cocaine.
On Sept. 15, 2005, four members of the IUP men’s basketball team were thrown out of The Coney, a Philadelphia Street bar and restaurant, after starting a fight, hitting four workers and causing more than $300 in damage. Following the incident, the four players, including standout Eddie Baker, were charged last November with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, harassment and simple assault.
The legal troubles didn’t stop there for Baker. On Aug. 4, Indiana Borough Police searched Baker’s residence and seized $11,482 in cash, crack cocaine, drug paraphernalia and a handgun, according to a police release. Baker was taken into custody Aug. 8 when police said they observed him attempting to complete a drug transaction in the laundry room of an apartment complex. He was charged with possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
Despite the recent problems, Fryling said there is a bright future for IUP and it will soon shed the party school image.
“I think the future is going to get bigger and better,” she said. “I think that the completely undeserved party school image will change when people see what students and faculty are doing, they’ll be surprised about what’s going on at IUP.”
While most IUP students were away on summer break, a blue-ribbon panel’s report on campus drug and alcohol abuse was delivered to IUP President Tony Atwater following an academic-year-long study.
The May 2006 report, “Recommendations for Action: The President’s Commission on Reducing Student Substance Abuse,” contained 93 action items in six categories, ranging from enforcement to prevention to education. The commission was chaired by sociology Professor Robert Ackerman.
The Ackerman commission’s recommendations included:
- elimination of IUP logos on alcohol-related merchandise, such as shot glasses and beer mugs
- providing weekend transportation to Pittsburgh and back
- prompt counseling for violators following issuance of a drinking citation
- surveys of students about campus substance abuse
- evaluation of Greek recruitment efforts.
— sources: The Penn; IUP Web site (see accompanying information box)
Sidebar: For More Information
Following are Web sites containing information on IUP substance-abuse policies, proposals and surveys:
IUP Alcohol Policy Web site
President Tony Atwater’s Commission on Reducing Student Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse Commission Recommendations
1999 Alcohol Summit Action Plan Student Survey