UI, cities seem resolved to act on 'unofficial St. Patrick's Day'
University of Illinois and city of Champaign officials have tried to reason with Campustown bar owners and UI students about the "unofficial St. Patrick's Day" celebration on campus.
They asked bar owners to work together to try to police themselves and to mitigate the public health and safety effects of an entire Friday devoted to drinking. The bar owners didn't respond. The mayor ordered bars in the campus area to stay closed until 11 a.m. But someone – it's not clear who – arranged for a bus to pick up students at 8 a.m. and take them to off-campus bars that were allowed to open early.
Some would call that resourceful, or sly, or fun. We call it irresponsible. And hypocritical. The same bar owners who preach about the dangers of binge drinking and drinking responsibly are actively promoting a full day – a school day, no less – of imbibing.
Hopes that this year's "unofficial," held on March 3, would be milder than those in the past were quickly dashed that day. Officials said there were more people at campus bars and at private parties than in the past (including not only those from other campuses, but recent UI graduates as well), more arrests and even a fatal traffic accident that is believed to have been related to the event. The two local hospital emergency rooms reported an increase in the number of people brought in for alcohol and chemical abuse problems, according to Bill Riley, the interim vice chancellor for student affairs at the UI. Riley also reported that there were more disruptions in classrooms at the UI, even some vandalism in two buildings.
It's time for the university and the local city governments to get tough before "unofficial St. Patrick's Day" breaks out into the all-out riots and lawlessness that used to afflict Carbondale on Halloween weekends. Only after city officials there shut down bars and liquor stores for an entire week around Halloween did the riots end. Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said that's an option he's considering.
The mayor said he's "disappointed" with many of the bar owners because it's clear they are promoting binge drinking while claiming otherwise. The mayor should be disappointed in no one more than Scott Cochrane, a member of the city's Liquor Advisory Commission. He's the bar owner who boasted to the liquor advisory commission last August that he created the "unofficial" holiday "and the terminology should not be used by others." Cochrane also is the bar owner who ran a full-page ad in the Daily Illini on March 3, urging students and other patrons to "Be Safe and Smart and Don't Act Like An Idiot – People Are Watching."
Indeed, people were watching and it's starting to sound like they've finally had enough. The mayor, police, university officials and many university faculty are angry. Eleven years is long enough for this tradition. It needs to be stopped before any more young lives are put at risk.