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No Whine Before Its Time

Before these students pass the bar, they'd like to belly up to one.

Quick! Call a lawyer!

Student Jason Sharman is still several years away from achieving that status, but as the president of the University of Colorado at Denver Pre-Law Society, he's already getting a pretty good education in the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Or maybe CU really intended for events like this student group's annual wine-tasting and benefit auction to dry up. Maybe in the process of cleaning up the Boulder campus, CU really meant to throw the baby out with the firewater at university facilities across the state.

Last September, CU issued a new Alcohol Purchase and Provision Administrative Policy Statement. It is not short and simple -- these days, nothing involving CU is. In fact, this policy is so complicated that it inspired a thirteen-page memo detailing Frequently Asked Questions, prepared by the Office of University Controller and updated just this past January.

The FAQ starts out like a cork exploding from a shaken champagne bottle:

"Q1a -- Why does the university need this policy? I really find these new rules ridiculous. It seems like they are an over-reaction to the horrible publicity the university has received as a result of the football recruiting incidents in Boulder."

That's right, let's swill -- er, kill -- the messenger!

For those who've blacked out the recent past, CU's problems with alcohol do not begin and end with the football recruiting scandal, which flowed from a liquor-laden recruiting party on December 7, 2001, after which three women claimed they'd been sexually assaulted that night. Other women later came forward to bolster their charge that the CU athletics department promoted a sexually hostile environment -- resulting in "horrible publicity," an athletic director going down, a chancellor going away, a university president resigning and then, finally, a football coach getting canned.

Oh, wait. That was because Gary Barnett lost a couple of key games last fall, not because of any off-field controversies involving his program.

But CU's alcohol problem can't be pinned entirely on recruiting parties awash in hootch. There was also Gordie Bailey, the freshman who drank himself to death in September 2004 as part of a fraternity stunt.

And about that former athletic director: Dick Tharp's part-ownership of Liquor Mart and the many cozy commercial connections between that alcohol enabler, the athletic department and assorted university and CU Foundation events were prime motivators in interim president (maybe for life) Hank Brown drawing up that new alcohol policy. Or, as the university responds to its own question on the FAQ:

"The reason behind the President's Alcohol Directive and the subsequent ŒAlcohol Purchase and Provision' Administrative Policy Statement extends beyond the football team. Currently, the university is undergoing a special performance audit, and many of the transactions in this audit involve alcohol. The university's auditors are concerned that we do not have adequate policies to govern our use of alcohol. President Brown, in his directive, has provided a structure for the use and funding of alcohol. The Alcohol Purchase and Provision policy provides guidelines and requirements for implementing the directive."

Not very clear ones, however. If Sharman and company just wanted to buy booze and pour it down a research monkey's throat, they could do so using "either a Department Purchase Order or complete the appropriate Requisition to have the PSC issue a Standing Purchase Order or a Purchase Order." But Sharman simply wanted to purchase wine that his club could serve at its Pre-Law Society Wine-Tasting and Benefit Auction. The April 21 event would be the third incarnation of the wine-tasting, and Sharman wanted to make it the best yet. "This is the first year we've had lots of advance notice," he says, and the club filed all the paperwork with the school, then sent out a thousand invitations not just to students, but to professors and lawyers and 350 law firms around town. The club would purchase wine with its own funds from its own account, and then pay itself back by collecting a $20 or $25 admission fee at the entrance to the party in the old Tivoli brewery, now a student union.

And then last week, UCD officials told the club that the university controller had determined the group couldn't buy liquor for its event. Not even if the club guarantees that no underage coed, no football player, no athletic director, slips in the door. Not even if all the guests are as responsible as Sharman. "I'm 32," he says. "I have a wife and child. I have rental properties and own a home. Our vice president has four children." And not even if, as Sharman says, "for the past two years, the school has cited us as a way to do alcohol responsibly."

A wine-tasting without wine wasn't going to work. So future lawyer and current systems engineer Sharman got busy researching university policy, and decided that the wine-tasting qualifies as a "special event," which allows for the purchase of liquor. Under CU's own policy, "a special event is defined as a fundraising gathering of a number of people for an identified organizational unit or university function (e.g., scholarships), where goods and/or services (e.g., dinner) are provided to those attending."

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