GRAND FORKS — North Dakota university campuses are one step closer to deciding their alcohol policies after the State Board of Higher Education’s Academic and Student Affairs committee approved a policy change on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Lisa Johnson, vice chancellor for student affairs at the North Dakota University System, said the change isn’t overly significant as most universities already have extensive alcohol policies in place. The change gives the power ultimately to the universities.

The committee voted 3-0 to move the change forward to the full board. The topic likely will be discussed at the State Board meeting next week.

Committee member Don Morton said each campus is different, so it will be good to let each decide how to best deal with alcohol policies on campus.

Morton noted that across the country more schools are allowing alcohol to be sold at its sports venues.

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“There’s a movement across the country; more and more schools are going to beer in the stadiums and beer at the basketball arena,” he said. “As attendance is declining in football across the country, I know athletic directors are looking at this as a way to get attendance back or to keep attendance. It’s based on the experience.”

Morton noted that he knows the institutions will be responsible in handling their alcohol policies because there is an upside and a downside to selling alcohol at university events.

Currently, alcohol is sold at University of North Dakota sporting events in the Alerus Center and the Ralph and Betty Engelstad Arenas because both teams play in buildings that are not owned by the university. Alcohol is also served at events in the Gorecki Alumni Center, another building not owned by the university. Alcohol is allowed to be sold at those events because the liquor license holder is not the university, UND spokesman David Dodds said..

Under the current North Dakota University System policy, universities are not allowed to obtain liquor licenses.

UND student Kaleb Dschaak, who is the student representative on the Board, said there has been a shift on campuses to allow an inclusive environment for alcohol.”

“In Grand Forks it’s far distant to any bars or sort of social locations like that for students, which has us struggling for ways of accommodating travel and that nature inside our school limits,” he said.

Dschaak said when planning began for the new Memorial Union students had inquired about adding a bar to the inside of the building, but the plan didn’t move forward in part because of policies like the one currently in place.

“I think this policy gives the autonomy to the campuses to allow them a little greater decision-making ability,” he said. “I’m actually very eager to see this policy changed.”

Katie Fitzsimmons, director of student affairs at the university system, said this policy is not supported by people in the substance abuse and prevention community. While opioid abuse, vaping and other drug-related problems continue to be a concern, alcohol is the No. 1 concern in a state with high binge drinking levels.

“Best practices show that increasing alcohol at events where you’re going to have minors present or even just young people in general … it’s one of the worst things you can do, especially in a state that has such high levels of binge drinking,” she said. “... The amount of deaths, the irresponsible driving accidents that happen, the amount of students that stop out of school because of the alcohol dependence is very high.”

Fitzsimmons said it would depend on what the colleges and universities want to get out of serving alcohol at university events.