CSPI Letter to the National
Association of State Colleges & Land Grant Universities
The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC) is expanding its alcohol "prevention" partnership with brewer Anheuser-Busch this year by recruiting member-college mascots to help convey a message of personal responsibility to viewers of this year’s NCAA basketball championship tournament (March Madness). For reasons outlined in the letter below to NASULGC’s President, we urge NASULGC member institutions not to participate in or cooperate with this ill-advised initiative, which is fraught with serious conflicts of interest for NASULCG and its members. We hope you will join us in calling on NASULGC to sever ties with Anheuser-Busch and adopt a policy prohibiting such partnerships with alcoholic-beverage companies in the future.
February 22, 2002
Dear Dr. McGrath:
We recently learned that NASULGC plans to expand its alcohol "prevention" partnership with brewer Anheuser-Busch by using member-college mascots to help convey a message of personal responsibility to viewers of this year’s NCAA basketball championship tournament (March Madness). Your collaboration with Anheuser-Busch is both ill-advised and antithetical to the interests of institutions of higher education and their students.
We urge NASULGC to act immediately to sever ties with Anheuser-Busch and adopt a policy prohibiting such partnerships with alcoholic-beverage companies in the future. In addition, we urge NASULGC to make public all details of its financial relationship with Anheuser-Busch, including the receipt of grant funds, travel allowances or reimbursement, and any other inducements of value and disclose any agreements with Anheuser-Busch related to the development and ownership of campaign messages.
NASULGC’s association with a major brewer is fraught with serious conflicts of interest for the organization and its members. First, teaming with a company whose products are a leading source of alcohol consumption, problems, and costs (Anheuser-Busch sells nearly 50% of all beer in the United States) on college campuses raises questions about the credibility of NASULGC’s commitment to fighting the nation’s costliest campus drug problem. It sends a mixed message to students about the role of alcohol in higher education, blurs member institutions’ principles and positions on alcohol, and ties NASULGC to a narrow, industry-approved "prevention" agenda.
Colleges and universities across the country are working hard to stem underage and high-risk drinking and change elements of campus culture that tolerate, condone, or support abusive drinking. NASULGC undermines those efforts by helping a major brewer push its brand name with college students, portraying itself as part of the solution to college drinking problems even as it perpetuates acceptance of drinking as an important element of college life.
Alcohol has devastating effects among college students. National surveys show that 44% of all college students engage in binge drinking, and that half of those students binge drink frequently (two or three times a week). College administrators link alcohol with over 40% of incidents of lowered academic performance and alcohol is involved in more than 40% of all campus incidents of injury to self or others. Two-thirds of college women with unplanned pregnancies report that they were intoxicated at the time of conception. On campuses where more than half of the students drink to excess, 87% of residential students report experiencing one or more problems as a result of other students’ drinking.
Anheuser-Busch may have a responsibility to ameliorate those problems which it has had a hand in creating. However, that duty is surely different from and independent of higher education’s interests in defending against aggressive alcohol marketing to its students, reducing the availability of alcohol around its campuses, and combating price specials and other promotions that encourage high-risk drinking. Those items, not surprisingly, are absent from Anheuser-Busch’s agenda.
Anheuser-Busch’s strong vested interest in promoting its products to a premium market niche – college students – raises serious questions about the genuineness of its involvement in efforts to reduce student drinking. Despite the fact that roughly half the college population is under the minimum legal drinking age, college students drink more than their non-college peers and represent a lucrative market for Anheuser-Busch and other alcoholic-beverage producers. That market yields tens of billions of dollars in current and future sales. By the brewer’s own admission, capturing the entry-level youth market is essential to the industry’s long-term viability and helps build brand allegiance and product loyalty – and sometimes addictions – that can last a lifetime. Clearly, reducing college sales of Budweiser and Bud Light would not serve the financial interests of Anheuser-Busch’s shareholders, to which the company is predominantly responsible.
NASULGC’s joint messages with the brewer do more to promote the company and its public relations agenda than they do to reduce alcohol problems. They are dwarfed by A-B’s omnipresent advertising and promotions, much of which target and appeal to college-age consumers (many of whom are younger than the minimum legal drinking age of 21). As in previous years, "March Madness" basketball coverage is sure to feature many of Anheuser-Busch’s glitzy, funny, hip beer commercials which are already a primary source of "education" students receive about alcohol. Students are far more influenced by and attracted to those commercials than they are by NASULGC’s Anheuser-Busch-sponsored ineffectively generic "social norms" messages. Such messages, in fact, provide subtle support for alcohol consumption, even among underage students.
NASULGC’s cozy relationship with a top producer and promoter of students’ number one drug of choice is inappropriate and counter-productive. It mocks prevention goals by legitimizing and normalizing, rather than questioning, the use of alcohol in connection with college life. It also raises the larger issue of growing concern about university-industry partnerships that bring with them conflicts of interest and threaten the public trust and objectivity of academic undertakings. We urge NASULGC to find other sources of support for alcohol prevention initiatives, and use this opportunity to help set standards for industry collaboration that will ensure the independence and integrity of academic research and other initiatives.
George A. Hacker, Director
cc: NASULGC Board of Directors
For further information or assistance contact Kim Miller 202-332-9110