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Open real dialogue on Tailgate

Monday's editorial and letter in The Chronicle about this relatively new phenomenon called "Tailgate" prompts me to offer some reaction and reflection.

My reactions are conflicted-I find myself agreeing with those who defend Tailgate for the fun and spirit it provides and I find myself saddened at hearing from those who celebrate the excesses of alcohol painfully obvious to anyone who observes from the sidelines or chooses to get doused by the flailing beer showered upon the crowds. I have enjoyed the creative costumes (most of them) and grimaced at the frequent tossing of full and near-full beer cans into the masses.

I appreciate the music, dancing and camaraderie and feel embarrassed when visitors and guests pass by and observe with shock and disbelief. Mostly, I'm surprised by the public silence of so many who tell me how dismayed they are by this new bacchanalian ritual.

I find the comments about our football program equally dismaying. Our team-our students-have worked very hard to represent Duke as student athletes and deserve our support. To refer to Tailgate as an event of far more importance than the game itself is just plain wrong. The co-option of football Saturdays as an excuse for a party is wrong as well, but that train has clearly left the station.

So, for the record, here are my genuine thoughts about Tailgate.

First, I'm frightened by the inevitability of a serious injury. Someone will get hurt one day, either from excess drinking, a thrown can or a car accident. I've seen too many students stagger away clearly incapable of a responsible or intelligent decision.

Second, I'm distressed by the awful mess left behind for someone else to clean up. If you haven't had the "pleasure" of seeing the parking lot shortly after the crowd has dispersed, I invite you to check it out. It's a humiliating example of the aftermath of "students gone wild" coupled with a lack of any sense of responsibility for the consequences.

Third, I hate the fact that I am perceived to be the bad guy because I just want you all to be around for your graduation.

Fourth, the legal drinking age is 21 and whether I like it or not (I don't), I have a legal and ethical obligation to acknowledge it. Don't waste your time encouraging me to support on-campus activities that encourage and promote underage drinking. That's just not an option for any faculty or staff member.

And, fifth, I welcome dialogue, not diatribe, about how our community can best accommodate student preferences about social life.

Though I have the often unenviable role of conveying unpopular institutional expectations, I do so with the advice and support of many. My e-mail to all of you encouraging support for our football team and advising you of potential liabilities for underage consumption resulted from conversations with many others.

My skin is thick enough to take The Chronicle chiding for having made "hollow threats." And, in truth, my e-mail message never purported to make threats, hollow or otherwise. I pointed out that students were likely to be asked for proof of age if carrying alcohol (they were) and encouraged all to be responsible and careful (most were). But The Chronicle does no one a favor and diminishes its credibility as a serious paper with comments such as these:

"Saturday's Tailgate was the most triumphant point of the day..."

"Tailgate acts as a crucial introduction to Student Affairs and campus culture at the beginning of each year..."

".vacillating and opaque machinations that are hostile to the principal feature of football season"

At this point, I don't exactly know what the plans will be for the next home football game. I expect that students and administrators will meet over the next few weeks to sort it out. I'm certainly open to creative ideas, but not any that simply suggest that we close our eyes, accept unreasonable risks and legitimize the illegitimate.

Provost Peter Lange, Dean of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki and several others (including myself) will be spending the next several weeks meeting with groups of students on West and East campuses. At these sessions, we want to hear your thoughts about campus life, community and residential and social conditions that would best serve your needs. These will be great opportunities for you to share your thoughts and I very much look forward to these group discussions. I also welcome direct dialogue-e-mail me, make an appointment and come visit with me, and offer your own thoughts in response to this column. Let's not make tailgating a divisive issue; frankly, we have far more important matters to consider.

Larry Moneta is the University's vice president for student affairs.

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