Editorial: Ambiguity and uncertainty in the new AOD policy

Posted by the Editorial Board

Hardly anyone aware of the troubles that our college faced last year by way of substance abuse could be surprised in seeing a noticeably harsher Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) policy this fall. Last October, the tongue-in-cheek title of Moorebid Ball was gravely apropos, setting the tone for an academic year that would see increased incidents of disorder and vandalism; the sort of abuses that only certain "substances" can generate.

As it happens, the administration actually began the process of AOD revision a full year earlier than the aforementioned events took place. But it is safe to assume that had there not already a revision in process, Moorebid's torrent of hospitalizations and the $40,000 worth of property repair would have sparked one anyway. So setting the question of origins on one side, we are left to pick apart the brand new, five-tier, "point-based" AOD policy – a document which has already angered enough students for college authorities to schedule a public discussion on the matter for the first week of October.

Much of the present debate over this significant alteration to our college's disciplinary code has centered on the new "association" rule included in the first tier of violations. Among the offenses of Level I – old standards such as "open container" and "underage possession of alcohol" – there lies an innovation: students simply in the presence of alcohol are to be penalized, after a courtesy free pass for the first offense. There, in print, we are told that a student who is not drinking, but only within range of those who are, can accumulate fines and heavy sanctions if written up more than once.

This clause is not only superfluous but also irrational. First, if we are to understand the rule's purpose as a way to account for those drunken, disorderly students who nonetheless carry no trace of intoxicants, there is already a Level II violation that authorizes Campus Safety to write up such individuals – a violation labeled "public intoxication/disorderly conduct." For what reason should our new code contain a statute to potentially penalize students who are neither in possession of alcohol nor causing any trouble?

Pressing this question further, what about those students who choose to act as designated driver, or walk inebriated friends home safely? What about those who, relying on the college amnesty policy, call an emergency in to campus safety? Choices of this kind are rightly preached to us as responsible, and realistically they are made more than just once in a lifetime, as the new policy would limit. Now these choices would entail a Level I violation and we are faced with a potential situation in which students end up penalized for not only harmless but also responsible behavior.

Both of these incarnations of the "association" problem hinge on the separate but related question of Campus Safety's enforcement of the new code. Legislation is one thing, and execution another; what is the enforcement policy concerning these new rules? Realistically, if Campus Safety were to break up, say, a Scribner apartment party, the obvious impracticality of collecting every student, most of whom slip out the back of the house within seconds, dictates how closely officers could enforce the code in that case.

But when it comes to busting parties held in dorm rooms with no back door escape route, will Campus Safety lock every person inside the room and proceed to take names? Operating off of this harsher and more pervasive legislation, it would seem as though anything but that kind of thorough round up would be plain negligence on the part of the officers.

Further clarification on enforcement, then, is essential to form a coherent picture of what campus will look like under this new policy. The language of the document, highlighting the use of "discretion" on the part of the authorities, is far too vague.

The topic of discretion leads finally to the looming question of appeals. After sifting through the above issues that arise from the policy's text, one notices the text that is glaringly absent: any mention of the Integrity Board appeal system and how this new code would impact it.

The appellate process for disciplinary matters is of course located in the Student Handbook and stands on its own, but the new AOD policy remains incomplete without an articulation of how that process is affected. There is a clause that allows additional points to be assigned to any case, through the administration's discretion, but no corollary where points my be subtracted on account of amnesty or lenience. This door should swing both ways.

Without a doubt our college will be engaging in this discussion for months to come, but before any reasonable dialogue can happen it is up to the administrators to provide everyone with a clearly articulated policy. Right now, there are too many contradictions and foggy principles to soberly assess the new AOD code.

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