Massachusetts Institute of Technology never ranks high on anyone's list of party schools, but, even so, a senior dean is being quoted as saying there is too much alcohol on campus. The same could be said for almost every college in the country. College and excessive drinking are often found together. They have been for many generations. It's really nothing new.
It's particularly dangerous when fraternities mix in "required" over-drinking as part of hazing or initiation.
Every so often the result is a tragedy that goes far beyond the range of ordinary youthful partying. So it is with the heartbreaking story of Scott Krueger, an 18-year-old MIT freshman from Orchard Park who died Monday after falling into an alcohol-induced coma, apparently in connection with a fraternity drinking party where he was pressured to take more and more.
Krueger was an outstanding student, a National Honor Society member and a three-sport athlete at Orchard Park High School. He had been honored as a student expected to make contributions to the community after graduation.
Every parent who has ever sent a son or daughter off to college knows the moments of trepidation that go with it, probably with good reason. As the Orchard Park High School principal pointed out, students are entering a new environment with parents no longer at hand and the day-to-day support of good friends and teachers missing. Students have to re-establish themselves in a new setting.
A great many prosper, finding new confidence in their ability to handle independence, make new friends and deal with tougher academic requirements. In short, they grow up and are better for it. But, for even the best, there can be traps along the way, not the least of which is alcohol and a culture that sometimes glories in "getting smashed" and has special laurels for those with a great capacity to "hold" plenty of drinks.
Somewhere very early in the freshman orientation, colleges would be wise to post strong cautions about alcohol, to tell their freshmen about the dangers in a clear fashion. Part of the warning should be not to let anyone -- even a brother in a fraternity the freshman really wants to be part of -- manipulate them into drinking to the point of poisoning.
The truth is that alcohol, so pleasant in small doses, can be overdone to the point where it kills. Sad to say, Scott Krueger is not a pioneer.
Krueger's blood-alcohol level had reached a point five times the legal limit for drivers in Massachusetts. Paramedics had to restart his heart, but he never emerged from a coma. His parents have been told that there had been a party at which new fraternity members had been paired with older members and required to drink a certain amount of alcohol collectively.
MIT officials say they are planning a campus-wide alcohol education campaign, along with a review of school policy on alcohol. The fraternity has been suspended from social activities and may be permanently closed later. Those are justified responses to the needless loss of such a promising young man. But MIT and all colleges might better address the alcohol issue when the freshmen first appear on campus, not long after their parents have driven away, trepidation and all.
Finally, those schools that don't find a way to control the rites of passage practiced by fraternities and other campus groups as they bring in new members are courting yet another tragedy, something else that's impossible to explain rationally. Be sure of it.