Town-gown friction — that is, conflicts between universities and the surrounding community — are as old as universities themselves. Student revelry, often fueled by alcohol, is not so fun for working folks who have to cope with late night noise, vandalism, public urination and the like.
Suburban neighbors of Towson University, the largest college in the Baltimore area with more than 22,000 students, had long regarded those halls of academe with antagonism, thinking TU had been holding itself blameless if drunken students living off campus had, for example, vomited on their lawn.
TU is hardly unique, but the number and severity of drinking-related problems at TU in the past has been alarming, including alcohol-related fatalities in 2007 and 2011 and dozens of cases yearly of drunken students ending up in emergency rooms. Much of this is detailed in reports obtained by the Baltimore Sun, which filed a request for records from TU under the Maryland Public Information Act.
For years, TU's civilian neighbors had been seeking a university administration that will own up to the problem and do something about it. Fortunately, it now has one.
TU officials say they are not only acknowledging the problem, but stepping up alcohol awareness programs and tightening enforcement. They say they want to contain, as best they can, the problem of student drinking spilling over into neighborhoods.
And, the neighbors are noticing.
"Towson University has changed remarkably," said Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations. "That doesn't mean all the problems are solved or even close to being solved. But we have a partner now."
The roots of the problem may lie in our society's permissive, rite-of-passage attitudes toward drinking by young people. But we can still confront alcohol abuse when we see it — and hear it and smell it.
And, a town-gown relationship based on partnership instead of antagonism is a promising way to start.