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State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, played hardball with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews last week, when the pair scuffled over whether suds are allowed on college campuses.
Wentworth, discussing his legislation that would allow concealed handguns on college campuses, balked when Matthews wondered whether "booze and guns" are a healthy combination.
"We don’t have bars on campus in Texas," Wentworth said on the Feb. 22 segment.
Matthews: "You don’t?"
Wentworth: "It’s against the law in Texas. That’s exactly right."
Matthews: "It is?"
Wentworth: "Yes, sir. No alcohol allowed."
Wentworth went on to clarify that he was limiting his characterization to public colleges and universities. When Matthews said he knew a lot of colleges that have campus bars, Wentworth said: "They don’t in Texas. We’re talking about Texas."
We decided to check whether bars and alcohol are allowed on college campuses in Texas.
When we asked Wentworth for backup, he pointed us to a section in the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Code about alcohol sales near schools. According to the code, a county commissioners court or the governing body of an incorporated city or town can prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages within 300 of a private or public school or within 1,000 feet of a public school at the school district’s request.
Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, told us that the code doesn’t specifically define "public school" so "there are some cities that interpret schools to include colleges and universities."
The Alcoholic Beverage Code also cites a section of the Education Code, which requires a school district’s board of trustees to prohibit alcoholic beverages at "school-related or school-sanctioned activity on or off private property."
Yet Andy Kesling, a spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, told us that the words "school district" in the Education Code indicate that the provision is limited to public schools through high school. Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, later agreed that the law does not apply to higher education.
Next, we contacted some Texas universities to gauge whether they have campus bars.
Rhonda Weldon, a spokeswoman for the University of Texas at Austin, told us the university’s Texas Union building houses both the Cactus Cafe, which has a liquor license, and the Underground, which is licensed to serve beer and wine. She said other campus venues where alcohol can be served, such as the Frank Erwin Center and the AT&T Executive and Education Conference Center, are run by contractors who are licensed to sell alcohol.
Wentworth called UT-Austin an exception. He said too that alcohol was prohibited on campus when he attended the Texas Tech University School of Law. Wentworth earned his law degree there in 1971.
Texas Tech spokesman Chris Cook confirmed that students aren’t allowed to have alcohol on campus and no campus establishments serve alcohol. But, Cook said, alcohol is sold in suites and club areas where university donors often sit in the football stadium and basketball arena, and is available during special events, such as receptions.
Next we tried Wentworth’s undergraduate alma mater, Texas A&M University. Spokesman Jason Cook said: "We don’t have bars on campus, in the common term, but alcohol is allowed on campus and is served on campus under special circumstances." The University Club, a campus dining facility, hosts a happy hour; the 21-and-older crowd can enjoy a $2 scotch or $3 sangria, among drink specials, from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, according to A&M’s web page about the club.
Cook said too that the Zone Club, an exclusive seating area in the football stadium, serves alcohol. According to A&M’s athletic department’s website, the Club includes a full-service bar.
In San Marcos,Texas State University spokesman Jayme Blaschke told us that George’s, in the student center, serves beer. When we asked whether George’s is a bar, he said it’s "an establishment that serves alcohol" that isn’t a full-service restaurant.
Next, we looked north, learning that The Pub on the University of Texas at Dallas campus serves wine and beer during certain hours Monday through Friday — with a limit of two drinks per person, according to the university’s website.
John Walls, a UT-Dallas spokesman, said the university doesn’t consider The Pub to be a bar because it has a full food menu.
Lastly, we looked for a legal definition of a bar. Beck told us that as far as she knows, none exists in state law.
For what it’s worth, the online Merriam-Webster dictionary slaps the "bar" label on "a counter at which food or especially alcoholic beverages are served."
Time to close our tab. We found two Texas universities that have bars on campus while other schools we contacted routinely serve alcohol in campus facilities.
Wentworth’s claim appears to have no legal or on-the-town grounding. It’s not just wrong — it’s Pants on Fire.
MSNBC, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Feb. 22, 2011
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Alcoholic Beverage Code (Sec. 109.33), Sept. 1, 2009, accessed Feb. 23, 2011
Texas A&M, The University Club schedule, accessed Feb. 23, 2011
AggieAthletics.com, Zone Club, accessed Feb. 23, 2011
Interview with state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, Feb. 23, 2011
Interview with Rhonda Weldon, communication director of university operations, University of Texas at Austin, Feb. 22, 2011
Interview with Jayme Blaschke, communications specialist, Texas State University, Feb. 23, 2011
Interview with Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications, Texas A&M, Feb. 23, 2011
Interview with Carolyn Beck, director of communications, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Feb. 23, 2011
Interview with Chris Cook, director of communications, Texas Tech University, Feb. 24, 2011
E-mail interview with Andy Kesling, communications director, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Feb. 24, 2011
E-mail interview Debbie Ratcliffe, communications director, Texas Education Agency, Feb. 24, 2011
Interview with John Walls, associate vice president for communications, University of Texas at Dallas, Feb. 24, 2011
Interview with Geoff Neal, general manger, The Den Campus Pub, Feb. 24, 2011
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