Friday, October 06, 2006

My Fault? No, It's Not My Fault!

The CDT has a story today about the increase in the number of students carousing at night in the Highlands neighborhood of State College this Fall. The anecdotal evidence is supported by an increase in the number of police calls this year in the time period of late August to late September over last year. Tom King, the police chief in State College, attributes the increased numbers to the increased number of freshman that Penn State admitted this year. Penn State flack Bill Mahon offers the following in response to King's ascertion about the cause for the increase number of calls for noise violations and disorderly conduct.

Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon, in an e-mail, said the volume of alcohol peddlers in town has a bigger impact on the booze problem than freshman enrollment.

"Based on statistics like the huge increase in alcohol-related emergency-room visits last year, the alcohol problem in State College was at its worst level ever at a time when Penn State's enrollment numbers were actually down," Mahon wrote. "The data indicate the number of student alcohol overdose does not appear tied to enrollment. Borough and campus police arrests for public drunkenness jumped sharply in 2005, when enrollment was down."

Two things are noteworthy in this response. The first thing is that Mahon chooses to address the question of public drunkenness arrests which was not mentioned by King. Then having misrepresented the problem he places the blame on booze peddlers and accepts none of the responsibility for the University. The blame shifting is part of Spanier's pr strategy for dealing with the bad reputation Penn State enjoys as a party school. Borough council member Jeff Kern shot back,
"I would hope that the university would have more respect for its student body and the town than to (attribute) a serious problem to the environment," he said. "I think there are behavioral issues that need to be dealt with, by both town and gown ... and I think we're just a little overwhelmed right now.

Kern showing backbone and standing up for the borough is a welcome relief. Typically when Mahon or someone else from Old Main tries to shift the blame for the drinking problem to the town, the claim goes unanswered.

Finally, why would Mahon bring up Penn State's drinking problem when that really isn't the issue? After all, Penn State would prefer not to have the spotlight placed on its drinking problem. This may have something to do with Mahon shifting the discussion to alcohol and then blaming the bar owners.

[Councilwoman Elizabeth] Goreham and Councilman Jeff Kern said Penn State ought to pony up some extra money to help finance the added patrols. The university pays the borough about $445,000 per year in an impact fee and an in-lieu-of-tax arrangement.

"We just got 2,000 extra people (freshmen) on a semi-permanent basis who have no impact on our tax base but have a significant impact on our expenses," Kern said.

Penn State is willing to talk about its alcohol problem if it can help it avoid taking financial responsibility for the problems it creates.

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