FROSTBURG — It’s dime draft night every Thursday at the Diamond Lounge on Main Street, and a dozen or so glassy-eyed students are milling around outside as Lt. Kevin Grove’s patrol car passes by.

He hangs a right on Bowery Street, the main drag for off-campus social life at Frostburg State University. A few students are walking — some stumbling — up the hill. On porches and through windows, they are visibly holding bottles. But Grove keeps driving. He’s looking for fights, accidents and vandalism.

A night earlier, an FSU student was hospitalized, and earlier this semester another nearly died from drinking Everclear, a grain alcohol illegal in a dozen states. She was saved by a resident assistant who recognized trouble signs after friends dropped the woman off at the dorm.

But tonight, at least, Grove won’t be calling Frostburg State President Jonathan Gibralter to inform him of a student fatality.

This may be what winning looks like in the battle against destructive binge-drinking on college campuses.

“I don’t have any arrogance about this,” said Gibralter, whose anti-binge-drinking efforts have attracted attention beyond Frostburg’s 5,200-student campus. “I don’t feel I have the answers. All I can say is we’re trying the best we can.”

Last summer, presidents of more than 100 colleges prompted a heated national debate by calling on lawmakers to rethink the national drinking age of 21. The group, called the Amethyst Initiative, argued current laws only encourage binge-drinking by driving it into the shadows.

Gibralter, who arrived at Frostburg in 2006, isn’t surrendering. Instead, he’s pushing a “zero tolerance” policy at an institution with a hard-earned party school reputation. He believes a president’s attitude makes a big difference, and thinks other presidents should do more. In early September, he was honored by the American Council on Education for his leadership on the issue.

Gibralter has made compromises, like supporting a “safe ride” program he initially opposed for fear it would encourage drinking, and he hasn’t gone so far as to ban alcohol from campus.

The focus is saving lives, not eliminating underage drinking, and the trick is to engage students without alienating them — while planting seeds of caution in their minds he hopes will make a difference when it counts.

At FSU, survey figures from 2006 and 2007 show the proportion of students engaged in high-risk drinking — just under half — is about on par with that of comparable institutions.

Students say the town of 8,000 year-round residents offers few other social options, and several bars sell cheap alcohol near campus. Most students live off-campus in houses, many with cramped basements students crowd into for parties. And there have been big problems with unrecognized fraternities that are outside the reach of the Greek system.

Just a month after Gibralter arrived two years ago an FSU fraternity member leaving a party punched out a 45-year-old town resident, knocking him down with life-threatening injuries.

Gibralter held a town-hall campus meeting and told students things were about to change. Students responded that the university had no right to interfere in their lives off-campus.

But Gibralter reminded them it did — it just hadn’t been enforcing those rules.

The big change, administrators and students say, is twofold — a consistent message to students about the standards, and knocking down the walls between on-campus and off-campus life.

Now, students who get city citations go through the campus discipline system, too.

“They’re more concerned about their status as a student than if they have to go to court,” said Jesse Ketterman, the university’s point person with the community. A Frostburg police citation likely means a fine, probation or community service. On campus, first-time offenders likely get a fine, an educational program and, now, a letter to parents. A second offense is probation, and a third offense is suspension or expulsion.

Gibralter has also pushed off-campus cooperation. Many schools have alcohol task forces, he said, but few include neighborhood landlords and business groups. Both sides say there was little contact between the previous administration and police. Now they meet monthly, exchanging information and tips about off-campus parties.

On his Thursday night patrol, Grove, a city officer since 1977, points out a bar whose owner has topped a patio fence with barbed wire to keep out underage drinkers, and an empty house once rented for the year as a party pad.

Most calls fielded by the city’s 15-member police department are student-related, and virtually all crime here, from assault to shoplifting, comes back to alcohol.

Off-campus citations for FSU students dipped from 245 to 133 last year — though a big raid in 2006-2007 makes the numbers hard to compare.

But Frostburg Public Safety Commissioner Bob Flanigan said he sees fewer repeat offenders.

“We’re not seeing the three- and four-time losers,” said Flanigan.

“That’s because the university is taking the stand that they’re taking. Before, the university was kind of hands-off. ... Dr. Gibralter seems to be a lot stronger on that and the kids know it.”

Jeremy Bittner, who grew up here and now edits the student newspaper, said Gibralter’s efforts were first greeted skeptically.

“A lot of people were very upset — this was a party town,” he said. “When there was the first raid on Bowery Street, I think it really opened some people’s eyes.”

But Bittner said suspicions diminished as Gibralter has hammered home his concern for student safety. He and a few other students said they believe students are making better decisions. Drinking games are still common but it’s more acceptable to play with water in the cup.

Zach Bensley, a junior and incoming president of the Phi Mu Delta fraternity, said he’s hearing a lot fewer questions from prospective students about whether Frostburg is a party school.

“Maybe students who are coming to college for the sole purpose of drinking will think twice about coming to Frostburg,” Gibralter said.

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