I agree with Szczepanik’s letter on Friday: Students should be treated like adults. However, what the letter fails to contextualize is that this sentiment is usually expressed until somebody gets hurt.
Specifically, I take issue with the line, “Whether you [Cheng] choose to admit it or not, those students referenced in your letter who received citations or required medical care are fully responsible for their own actions.”
Students being responsible for their actions is a great theory, yet reality indicates that this statement is only partially correct. In practice, students and universities are held responsible for students’ actions.
A Google search of “parents sue campus” turns up hundreds of cases documenting universities being sued for negligence and wrongful death. Stories surrounding drinking include students who sustained injury or death after a night of partying.
There is a line when it comes to hazing; however, if we are going to argue adulthood, then shouldn’t students be responsible for their voluntary involvement in an organization that partakes in dangerous drinking rituals? There are also cases involving drunken students who have fallen off balconies or jumped out of windows.
Cheng is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Beyond safety, Cheng’s email has to demonstrate how the university warned students about the dangers of alcohol. After all, many lawsuits claim that universities should have been more proactive. Loosely translated: “The university should have sent more e-mails, had more police presence, and required more alcohol education classes.”
Parents have tried holding universities responsible for students’ personal choices involving drug use, eating disorders and suicides. We say we want universities out of our personal lives, but litigate if they aren’t proactive?
This leads to a philosophical question about education. If the responsibility of a university is to educate, why do we fund any department outside the classroom?
The short answer is that most students benefit when the university takes an interest in personal needs. Think of the university’s Wellness Center, which provides counseling, or any resource center addressing the needs of a certain population. We have asked universities to be proactive in addressing our personal lives and now we’re writing letters to the chancellor because she’s too involved?
Frankly, I don’t care how much students drink nor do I wish to police their choices after they drink. What I take issue with is when a person engages in risky behavior and the rest of us pay the price. The money for litigation does not come from the chancellor. It comes from us through taxes, tuition and fees. Even when a case is dismissed there are still hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into lawyers and court fees.
I understand the frustration of Szczepanik’s letter. However, I disagree with the target of that frustration. We should be frustrated with a system when it says “stay out of students’ personal lives” and then claims “university negligence” when students get hurt because of personal choices made by them or by people who harmed them. Until the system makes up its mind, Chancellor Cheng, keep the e-mails coming.
graduate student from Normal in speech communication