Alcohol, the fuel of college melees Disturbances: Booze has become the biggest headache of higher education, triggering campus rampages nationwide.


WESTERN Maryland College's "Spring Fling" a week ago Saturday turned into a May melee.

Flying beer bottles, police in riot gear and pepper spray were the order of the evening, as another usually quiet campus got its name in the papers in an unintended way.

Western Maryland is not alone. Similar disturbances have occurred this spring at Michigan State, the University of Connecticut, Ohio University, Washington State, Plymouth State, the University of Tennessee at Martin and Miami University of Ohio.

Not since the Vietnam-era demonstrations, which 30 years ago this spring shut down some campuses and prevented hundreds of students from graduating on time, has there been such a rash of college and university disturbances.

The one common thread this time? Not peace or civil rights. It's alcohol. Every one of these rampages was triggered by students under the influence.

Alcohol is higher education's biggest headache. While 80 percent of undergraduates are too young to drink legally, alcohol is the lubricant of student social life.

Underage drinking is as common as dandelions, and a Towson University official estimated recently that 85 percent of underage students who drink carry false IDs.

Some colleges have reacted by cracking down, but dry campuses are plenty wet beneath the surface. Others -- Western Maryland included -- are trying to educate students about drinking. A few brave souls have suggested lowering the drinking age (again) to 18, but many regard such a move as total surrender.

If anyone has the cure, the nation's 3,700 college presidents would like to hear about it. Every one of them thinks, "There but for the grace of God "

Students offer 3 ways to raise the Titanic

How do you raise the Titanic?

Morgan State University engineering Professor Salim Akhtar put that question to an introductory class he teaches in industrial engineering. The students, most of them freshmen, were divided into three teams and given six weeks to research the question and come up with a solution.

The Education Beat was asked, with Morgan Professor Richard Pitts, to judge the competition Monday afternoon.

One team based its proposal on a 1996 attempt to raise part of the ill-fated liner from its grave 12,500 feet beneath the North Atlantic. The Morgan team proposed attaching balloon-like lift bags to the ship, filling the bags with diesel fuel (which is buoyant because it is lighter than water) and raising the vessel ever so gradually.

The second group based its proposal on what happens when you lower a glass, rim first, into water.

This group proposed lowering double-layered domes over the two parts of the ship's wreckage, vacuuming any water out and removing individual items, then raising the ship, again using diesel fuel as the buoyant. Submarines and cranes would do the lifting.

The third, and smallest group, got my vote, and that of Pitts.

This group of five students built its own model robot. A working version, with two arms attached to a rotatable base, would cut what is left of the Titanic into pieces. The pieces would be lifted by giant cranes and reassembled.

Pitts and I liked the idea of the students trying their robot out in the bathtub. That's a far cry, of course, from the frigid waters of the Atlantic, but who cares? A good time was had by all, and Akhtar was proud of his students' efforts. The exercise stimulated creative thinking, he said, and prompted students to think about working at an ocean depth where light and temperature are only two of many problems.

The winning team gets a pretend contract to carry out its project.

Board's headhunter hunted down Hunter

The city school board has had considerable trouble finding a chief executive officer to replace interim chief Robert E. Schiller -- so much trouble that it fired the "headhunter" it had engaged last year to look over the national pool of potential big-city school executives and urge top candidates to apply.

No wonder the headhunter was beheaded. Richard Hunter, the superintendent of the early '90s who was let go after run-ins with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other Baltimore power brokers, told us the other day that the firm had approached him about applying.

"I found that quite amusing," said a rueful Hunter, an education professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "I politely declined. I told them I'd already had experience in Baltimore."

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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