Addressing Legal Liability
The Inter-Association Task Force recognizes the great liability each institution has under the law and in its duty to care. Each college and university, therefore, must:
- State clearly its policy on alcohol use and misuse, incorporating local, state and federal laws.
- State clearly its institutional values and provide the reasons for its policies and procedures.
- Hold each member of its community accountable for their behavior within the established policy on alcohol.
- Make a diligent effort to enforce its policy consistently and to sanction violators. Student sanctions should include fines, community service, loss of campus privileges (such as extra-curricular activities), loss of campus housing, and temporary or permanent removal from school.
- Review all activities involving alcohol on a regular basis to insure acceptable campus norms and consistent enforcement of policy.
- Provide appropriate ongoing training, to the best of its ability, for student, faculty and staff leaders to understand alcohol policies and associated risk management concerns.
- Communicate through available resources and technologies, such as e-mail, to increase understanding of the institution’s “duty to care.”
Unless it is carefully crafted and enforced, legislation can have only a limited impact in enforcing public policy goals. Current laws and regulations are effective only with strict enforcement by law officers and institutions. Enforcement, and strong, consistent response by the courts, are critical.
The Task Force believes parents can be active players in the effort to combat the illegal use and misuse of alcohol, and supports the development of a policy on the release of information to parents or guardians in situations involving alcohol abuse by each institution.
The U.S. senators from Virginia, in conjunction with recommendations from the state’s recent Task Force on Drinking by College Students, have introduced an amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that may give institutions the option to notify parents of serious alcohol infractions without violating privacy laws. Federal regulations currently allow parental notification when a student’s health or safety is in jeopardy; most schools, however, have not interpreted this to mean alcohol offenses.
“The incidents of the past year have forced the MIT community to question the role alcohol plays in the lives of students. Over the winter, students, faculty, and administrators struggled with that question and proposed answers in the form of new Institute alcohol policies for individuals and groups. Now, with policies and committee reports in hand, the MIT community must begin to live with the answers that it has found.
The fact that we have a policy, however, does not mean that the decision-making process is over. …
the administration must be careful not to enforce policy through instilling fear and distrust. Such a move could have unfortunate consequences. We are concerned by the growing distrust between students and the Campus Police. We are also concerned that a similar distrust is beginning to poison the relationship between students and graduate resident tutors. The relationship between students and the Campus Police exemplifies the way in which enforcement should not be handled.
The current alcohol policy forces police officers to act as intrusive enforcers of state law. The problem is amplified by the fact that the Campus Police serve as the only reliable medical transport on campus. There is some fear in the student body that students cannot call upon the Campus Police for help in an emergency without fear of investigation. Nothing compelling has been said to address these fears. The “good samaritan” clause in the alcohol policy makes calling for help an extenuating circumstance when deciding on punishments for violations, but after a month of watching this policy in operation, we can safely say that this has not alleviated concerns in the student body. Further steps must be taken to reassure students that they can safely call the Campus Police. …
The administration must balance adhering to state laws and its own policies with maintaining the trust of the student body, which is explicitly threatened by those very laws and policies. Even though that balance is precarious, failing to find that balance will nullify any good which might have been gained from our season of introspection.”
Editorial, The Tech
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, March 17, 1998