The University of Iowa’s ranked number-8 in the Princeton Review list of the nation’s greatest party colleges — a fact nobody’s celebrating in school administration. While the U-of-I dismisses the publication’s tongue-in-cheek rankings, it just proves a problem to Jim Clayton, who heads a group called “Stepping Up” in Iowa City. He describes it as a community – campus coalition to “reduce the harmful effects of high-risk drinking by concentrating on changing our local environment.” That environment is more than just a big school and the surrounding college town, he says. Clayton charges that bar owners have swayed city leaders to make rules that favor their business but give students too-easy access to alcohol. Clayton says within one mile of the Memorial Union on the center of campus there were 17 liquor licenses, back when he moved to town in 1981. 24 years later, he says within that same area there are more than 65 licensed bars. He says the number of students hasn’t increased nearly that much in that time. Clayton was happy when federal transportation rules made all the states raise their drinking ages to 21. He’s upset with local ordinances that make exceptions to that.Underage people are allowed into the Iowa City bars, which he says can let in patrons as young as 19 after ten o’clock at night. That doesn’t permit the teens to drink, Clayton says, it’s just so they can be with their friends and hear the bands, according to the logic. The bars charge those underage patrons a cover charge for the privilege of getting in, and aren’t supposed to serve them alcohol. “But once you’re in there,” Clayton says, “all you need is a legal-age friend, someone who’s 21, to buy two drinks.” Clayton says students tell the group’s surveyors that 80-percent of the time that’s where they get their drinks, from a legal-age patron who’s already in the bar. Clayton owns a specialty retail store in Iowa City and was appointed to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission in February of this year. The group “Stepping Up” urges parents to talk with kids, students to find alcohol-free recreation events, bar owners not to serve young patrons, and community leaders to crack down on underage drinking.
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