A dry campus no more?
Western leaders exploring liquor license, serving of-age students
Originally published 2013-05-09
Western State Colorado University officials have made a concerted effort in recent years to create an inviting atmosphere for students on campus, with such facilities as the newly built University Center. And what could be more inviting for a college student than beer?
Western leaders say they are exploring obtaining a liquor license for the University Center — including the possibility of beer on tap at Mad Jack’s snack bar on the building’s ground level.
Gary Pierson, vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, said the idea of serving alcohol on campus was born out of a group within student government called the 21+ committee. The group approached Pierson about a year ago, hoping to host events on campus for of-age students, at which alcohol would be served.
The students adhered to the university’s alcohol policy, worked to get the necessary permitting and hosted a handful of events — without a hitch.
“I wanted to see how the students responded,” Pierson said. “I think they were empowered to put these programs on and it was contingent upon them making sure they follow policy and did the things that we asked of them. They showed responsible leadership.”
Over the last year, four 21-plus events for students have taken place on campus. The biggest was a “Sweaters and Sinatra” party just prior to Christmas.
Pierson said the effort spurred him to initiate talks with Sodexo — Western’s food and beverage service contractor — about partnering with the university in pursuit of a liquor license.
Of course, there are logistical challenges to such an endeavor — and exactly what would be pursued in the way of on-campus alcohol has yet to be ironed out.
“Initially, what we were thinking is that Mad Jack’s would be kind of the campus pub,” Pierson said, adding that certain types of liquor licenses would also allow the possibility of serving beer, wine or spirits at other campus events.
If a “campus pub” is ultimately pursued, it wouldn’t be the first time that students on Western’s campus could buy a beer at the end of a school week.
Until 1987, the legal drinking age in Colorado was 18, and 3.2-percent beer flowed from taps in the former Student Union.
Frank Venturo, former vice president of Academic Affairs and communications and theater professor, recalled that in the late ’70s, Colorado State University built a pub on campus, and “then everybody had to have one.” Western followed suit.
“It was okay at first, and then the novelty of it wore off,” he said. “The same thing happened at CSU. ... There’s a real question of whether students really want to stay on campus to do their socializing.”
But when Colorado’s drinking age was raised to 21, amid the difficulty of enforcement, Venturo recalled that the pub was done away with and Western’s campus became “dry.”
What’s sparked the recent interest?
For one, among the four candidates for student body president in this spring’s election, Pierson noted that all cited the 21+ initiative as a priority in coming years. Especially with the second-year residency requirement taking effect this coming fall, “it’s imperative that we have more events on campus where students want to come and hang out,” he recognized.
“We hear pretty consistently about a lack of things to do in the community for students,” Pierson continued. “I think that the direction that we’re looking at going is having those 21 and over events, where we can serve alcohol to people of age, but also do it in a way where there’s opportunities for the 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds to be part of it.”
Pierson offered that an idea has been floated by students to repurpose the space that is currently the Escalante Fitness Center. He said that could entail a venue for music and dancing in the evening at which, for example, with a certain type of license, alcohol could be served on the ground level of the building for students 21 and older.
Also, Pierson noted that Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction recently obtained a liquor license and has reported success.
However, Mesa spokeswoman Dana Nunn noted a key distinction. Mesa’s license was pursued with the intent of allowing the university’s food service provider to serve alcohol at designated locations on campus during events, “not for a student snack bar kind of a setting or student dining.”
Jeanne McEvoy, president and CEO of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, said she sees benefits for Western obtaining a liquor license — as opposed to applying for special events permits every time the need arises.
But beer at the snack bar?
“That’s just a lot of temptation and risk,” she said. “The population they serve is not of the drinking age, for the most part. ... There’s a lot of peer pressure and I would hate to see it go wrong.”
Still, Western’s outgoing student body President Haleigh Hanifen said she’s encouraged by the conversations that are taking place.
Last month, she reported on the work of the 21+ committee to the university’s Board of Trustees.
“They were curious to see how it’s been implemented and where we want to go from here,” she said. “We’ve had four events now. Obviously, we can have responsible alcohol use on campus in a positive light and it doesn’t need to be the focus. ... Just having some sort of atmosphere where we can be around students our own age (on campus) and have beer or wine is exciting.”
City Clerk Gail Davidson indicated that a “concurrent” review of a liquor license application — between the city and the state — typically takes three to four months before it’s approved.
Dean of Students Pierson said that talks with Sodexo are continuing. If an exact proposal is refined, he said that approval among the university’s full cabinet is needed before the concept is taken to the trustees.
“It’s just exciting to know that the school has been receptive,” Hanifen added.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com)