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Willy's dry after alcohol violation

By Jocelyn Wright     10/22/09 7:00pm

Willy's Pub was dry this week in response to an incident Oct. 8 when a student brought outside alcohol into the room, became overly intoxicated and was later found outside Pub by Rice University Police, Associate Director of the Student Center Pamelyn Shefman said. The decision to make Pub dry was made by V&W Permits, the outside organization that owns Pub, whose voting members include Shefman, Assistant Dean of the Student Center and Campus-Wide Programs Boyd Beckwith, Pub Manager Trey O'Neill, Valhalla Manager Sean Walsh, Wellness Center Director Emily Page and economics graduate student alumnus Purvez Captain. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission was not involved in the decision.

V&W Permits reached its decision by evaluating the response the TABC had to similar incidents. Shefman said in such cases TABC typically closed the bars for three to nine days.

V&W Permits decided to make Pub dry for a week after its monthly meeting last week. O'Neill, a Will Rice College senior, said Pub is using this week as a teaching opportunity.

"We're just making sure that everyone understands what the situation is and what policies are," O'Neill said, noting that Pub expressly forbids outside alcohol. "These things concerned us, so something had to happen. But the idea is that this is something educational that we can build on and going forward we won't have these problems."

O'Neill said the incident was particularly serious because not only was the student violating Pub policy, but Pub would have been liable for any of the student's actions after he left.

"If he had left and got into a car accident or anything we would have still been liable," O'Neill said. "Bringing outside alcohol is strictly against Pub and any bar's policy."

Beckwith said it was imperative students understand that Pub is compelled to follow TABC guidelines.

"Students don't get that Pub is a licensed premises - same as the Ginger Man or bars downtown - that must follow the rules," Beckwith said. "We must dispel the myth that because it is on campus nothing bad can happen. Pub is not where you want to go drink underage. ... If something [unlawful] happens it could be the last time Pub exists. We'd rather educate students to follow the law than jeopardize the existence of a student-run business."

Beckwith said a year and a half ago, TABC requested Rice University Police Department show them Pub's location, alerting Beckwith that the organization was now paying attention to Pub's goings-on.

A bartender or student providing alcohol to a minor can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, pay up to $4,000 in fines, and have his or her driver's license suspended for 180 days. A minor caught drinking can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor with a $500 fine and have his or her license suspended for a shorter time.

Beckwith said a sign would now be posted at the entrance of Pub listing this information.

"More responsibilities are put on a person of age," Beckwith said. "We posted the consequences so that they are aware of the personal risk if they want to provide alcohol to their friends."

Beckwith said when Pub starts serving alcohol Monday it will also start searching the backpacks and purses of students entering the establishment and looking to purchase alcohol. He said students who do not wish to have their bags searched can leave them in the lockers on the first floor of the Rice Memorial Center.

O'Neill said Pub is trying to organize more events that are not alcohol related, like the Rice Program Council concert series, Trivia Night, board games and a karaoke contest, to cut down on the underage drinking incidents of the past few semesters.

"[Underage drinking] is not really an issue the way it once was, and so we want to continue with that and fix a couple of these problems," O'Neill said.

Beckwith said he hopes students would see Pub as a late-night food alternative as well.

"Students complain all the time about no late-night food options on campus, but Pub is open till 2 a.m.," Beckwith said. "Students should take advantage and help support student-run businesses."

Since Pub makes more money from food sales than from alcohol sales, O'Neill said that Pub's closure should not markedly hurt its finances.

"I think people are going to be disappointed that it's dry for a week," O'Neill said. "But the truth is, hopefully people will learn some things and we won't have any issues and it'll be fine.

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