Up in smoke

By JOHN ZORABEDIAN  |  January 25, 2006

Currently, Brown treats alcohol and drug violations on a case-by-case basis, with minor infractions requiring students to meet with a health educator or a dean, or to go before a peer review board. Deans handle serious infractions in administrative hearings that can dole out sanctions ranging from a written reprimand to expulsion. Repeated infractions “can lead to removal from the university,” and three infractions “would be taken very seriously,” Greene says, but there is no three-strikes rule as at URI. “The sanctions of our disciplinary system are very likely more severe than those imposed by the courts,” Greene says.

But information on recent disciplinary actions against students suggests that a hard line is rarely taken. In the semester ending in December of 2004, the most recent period for which data is available, the university held administrative hearings on three incidents involving student misconduct. Two resulted in deferred suspensions, meaning the students would not be suspended provided they abide by university regulations. The one student who was suspended urinated in front of a crowd at a sporting event while intoxicated, and verbally abused event security staff. Along with a one-semester suspension, the student was required to undergo alcohol counseling while away from the university.

Greene says the university consults with neighbors and handles complaints through its disciplinary process. With almost 20 percent of Brown students living off-campus — about 1200 students this year — neighborhood relations are “an area that needs constant attention.” Still, Greene says the university is examining its related policies not out of response to outside pressure, but out of concern for the well being of its students. “We feel enormous pressure to do right by our students,” he says.

By contrast, URI administrators and Narragansett officials trumpet the coalition they formed in 2000 to combat an increase in off-campus drinking by students.

With local police increasing their patrols, and expanded university powers holding students accountable for off-campus behavior, the number of neighbor complaints has gone down, they say, and more students have been caught in the net. While students are outraged, town-and-gown relations seem to be on the upswing. (Of the $5.6 million in federal grants received by URI to study its “environmental approach,” some of the money goes to the Narragansett police, for the stated purpose of beefing up enforcement against drunk driving by students.)

Despite the protestations of students, URI’s administration appears unlikely to reverse course. And the college’s environmental approach makes it just one of an increasing number of universities that have begun to follow the trend. Concerns over student drinking led Salve Regina University in Newport to form a coalition with local officials and business owners in 1996, greatly reducing the number of under-age drinking violations in Newport’s high concentration of bars, says Gerald Willis, the school’s associate dean of students.

URI’s policies are “not as liberal as some,” acknowledges Tom Dougan, the university’s vice president of student affairs, but he defends the approach, calling the threat of strict sanctions a necessity. “Our system allows us to intervene to educate and help our students. We believe early intervention really helps down the line.”

Student backlash
For URI students like senior Micah Daigle, president of the campus chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the school’s drug and alcohol policies seem like a trap, luring students into a confrontation with the law.

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