Editorial: College must review new AOD policy with a clear head

Posted by the Editorial Board

On the heels of a group retreat last week, the College administration is ready to meet again to review the controversial Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) policy adopted last fall. Now is the time to revisit the expectations that the student body and the administration have of each other with regard to the use of substances on campus.

Students, through organized forums and comments posted on The Skidmore News, have voiced several grievances with the policy as it stands. Ambiguities in the current code are problematic to both students and those charged with enforcement of the policies. Chief among these grievances is the "association rule," which punishes those who choose not to drink, but find themselves in the proximity of alcohol. Fines and increasingly more severe sanctions are taken against students who happen to be merely in the presence of alcohol more than once.

Many students also take issue with the permanent nature of all acquired points. Under a stipulation like the "association rule," someone's choice to act as a responsible friend could lead to his or her eventual suspension from Skidmore. Points earned at the debut of a student's college career, even for low-level violations, stay with that student until graduation. Conversations about what a revised AOD policy will look like should include a pathway to forgiveness.

Further confusion lies in the categorization of violations. The possession of six or more standard drinks is considered a Level II violation, but no distinction is made between minors and those legally permitted to drink. As a blanket rule this could have undesirable consequences: could any or all members of a seven-person Scribner House containing 6 drinks receive points and sanctions? Under the current articulation of the policy, the answer is yes. 

There are other discrepancies with the policy and New York state law. Possession or use of marijuana (less than 25 grams) is considered a Penal Code violation and is subject to a maximum of a $100 fine by New York State. Under the current AOD policy, the same offense is considered a Level III offense and is accompanied by a $200 fine, as well as substance education and assessment at the student's expense. 

In this case, the College's policy is more severe than New York state law. This violation is more harshly punished than possession of a false ID – considered a Level II offense by the College, but potentially more grave in the eyes of the law. While cases of possession of a false ID are considered on an individual basis, it could be considered a felony. 

Students have also been confused about the how this policy is executed. Though the administration has created stricter rules, they have left ambiguities in enforcement. While it is useful and convenient to allow Campus Safety and other administrators to use their discretion and better judgment in enforcing the policy, we would like to create a policy that is fair, were it to be rigidly enforced. 

Students who imbibe responsibly, though in violation of the current AOD policy, can benefit from the "discretion clause," however, students and the administration should draft an AOD policy that is reasonable, even when enforced stringently. We do not wish to condemn the use of discretion on behalf of Campus Safety Officers; we merely ask that the new letter of the law be just. 

A reoccurring motif, seen in every offense at every level, is parental notification. This part of the AOD policy implies a lack of respect for students. We are adults and we deserve to be treated as such, and such treatment includes being afforded basic privacy. We are willing and able take responsibility for our actions. 

It may behoove us to examine AOD policies at our sister institutions. Vassar College's Alcohol Policy states: "Students are recognized as adults and are expected to obey all local, state, and federal laws as well as college policies and regulations.  Students will be held responsible for their own conduct." This recognition should be at the core of our policy. 

Having an AOD policy is not inherently oppressive, but ours is unworkable in its current structure. Fixing it entails clarifying the current ambiguities and removing the nonsensical portions. 

It is in the best interest of the administration and the student body to have an AOD policy that, above all else, protects students.  Any new policy should be based on a mutual respect between students and the administration. 

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