Concerns brewing among professors over VCU-themed beer

Posted at 5:46 PM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 13:30:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) will be joining the likes of several other Virginia universities on Wednesday as they launch their own branded beer.

The beer will be a golden pale ale called "Ram Bam" made by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond.

Patrick Murtaugh, the COO and co-founder at Hardywood, said they worked with graduate students at the school's master's program the Brandcenter.

"They had multiple teams come up with ideas for the label and all the branding for the beer and pitched it to us. And we got to sit and really see their process and how they came up with this idea. And that was a lot of fun for us to work with such an esteemed program," said Murtaugh, who added the type of beer was picked between three finalists — an India pale ale, a pale ale, and a golden ale (the eventual winner). "We brewed a few different batches of a pilot brew and three different recipes. And then we had a group of stakeholders from VCU come out to the brewery and they all got a chance to sample three different variations of a recipe. And they all voted on their favorites and so, that's how we came up with the final recipe. So it was a very democratic process."

With the launch, VCU joins the University of Virginia (UVA) and Virginia Tech with a school-branded beer — the latter being brewed by Hardywood as well.

Of-age VCU students who spoke with CBS 6 said they are in support of the idea.

"Honestly, I think it's kind of cool. For, you know, kids who are of legal age to drink and who might be interested," said Hartley, a sophomore.

However, the VCU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors has expressed its concerns about the venture.

"Why are we doing the exact same thing as other universities in the state when our values and what we stand for is is different?" Everett Carpenter, a VCU professor and the chapter president.

The group sent a letter to VCU President Michael Rao listing their issues, including the process that allowed it. It said while the VCU brand on alcohol normally wasn't allowed, an interim policy had let this go ahead. They said that it was a misuse of the policy and was rejected by a universitycommittee that includes faculty and staff and moving ahead with the project would violate the spirit of shared governance.

"The administration decided to use a loophole, essentially, in the policies to put in an interim policy to allow branding of beer. Now, that loophole is designed for emergency situations — such as federal regulations, accrediting guidelines, things like that. So, it's unclear how exactly branding of VCU beer falls under that emergency criteria for that policy," said Carpenter. "And then, as part of that interim policy, it's supposed to come to university council to be made permanent. University Council said no. So, now it's unclear exactly what's going to happen with that, even though they're rolling it out Wednesday."

The chapter president adds it's insensitive considering the alcohol-related death of VCU freshman Adam Oakes.

"They voted it down, they disagreed with making it permanent, they felt that given the recent tragedies, with alcohol-related deaths, with the population we serve, with the values of our hospital, with the drug and alcohol abuse centers, that it was not consistent with that," Carpenter said. "It's good that the money will go towards scholarships. That's great. But, given our other values, I'm not sure that that justifies all of the the issues around the shared governance and otherwise."

In response to the letter, Oakes' cousin Courtney White said the family is grateful for VCU AAUP's advocacy.

"We 100-percent support the professors and appreciate them thinking of Adam and the insensitivity of releasing this beer at this time," said White.

Hartley, a sophomore at VCU, said he doesn't see an issue with the move.

"I don't really see it as an issue or anything different than anyone else releasing a new beer, you know? If you're of legal age and you go to VCU and you want to buy it, you should be able to, and VCU, you should be able to, you know, release any line of product they want," Hartley said.

CBS 6 reached out to the Alumni Relations contact on the event page for the launch and asked about the letter. She said no comment.

A spokesperson for the VCU did respond.

"Beer is currently available at the Siegel Center. Branded beer is permitted under VCU's interim University Trademarks & Licensing policy as approved in May 2022. VCU will not market the branded beer directly to students. It is designed for alumni and sports fans of legal drinking age – as are similar branded beverages already available from three other Virginia universities," said Mike Porter, Associate Vice President for Public Affairs. "The launch of VCU branded beer will be accompanied by a strong message of responsible use to demonstrate VCU’s commitment to advocate against underage drinking and the abuse of alcohol products. Proceeds from sales will go directly to student scholarships."

Murtaugh said after the launch at their Richmond location, the beer will be available at events at the Siegel Center and in the coming weeks should start appearing in local stores.

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