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XX Overview for Administrators PDF Print E-mail
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Books - Students and Drugs
Written by Bridget Kinsella   

The use of drugs by students and society's response to this use confront the college administrator and the educational institution which he represents with a multitude of problems—educational, ethical, legal, and professional. His dilemma, perhaps greater than that of any other individual, highlights the difficult conflicts of values inherent in the problem—ones often ignored by the legislator, the law-enforcement officer, and such professionals as the physician, the research scientist, the psychologist, and the sociologist, as they look at the phenomenon from their own special interest or point of view. Our overview will examine these conflicts, not, unfortunately, from the vantage point of systematic, empirical research but rather on the basis of our own experience in exploring the problems created by student drug use with administrators in a variety of institutions across the country, as well as on the basis of an on-going survey of drug policies and drug programs in still other institutions.

The thoughtful administrator recognizes that the institution's response to the use of drugs by students has serious implications for every aspect of that institution's relationship to society and to the student. It would be most convenient if the problem were simple and decisions about it could be made in a vacuum. To most adults, including some educators, the answer to the problem seems to be as simple as stating that the institution is a law-abiding corporate member of society and that it will not tolerate the breaking of the law by members of its community. Implicit in this position are the assumptions that this approach will eliminate the use of drugs and that existing law-enforcement methods are the most effective way to accomplish this end. But a careful consideration of this position also requires an evaluation both of the means for achieving its objectives and the implications of these measures for fulfilling the overall educational function of the institution. Are there negative consequences from this simple answer? What is the price of adopting this position?The answers to these questions will depend on the nature of the particular institution and its perception of its role as an institution of higher education. For a university with a commitment to freedom of inquiry, to research, and to education as opposed to training, the price may be extremely high both to the institution and to society. To the college dedicated to promoting maximum intellectual and social growth and developing young people both inside and outside the classroom—in contrast to mere training in classroom and laboratory—the impact of police methods, externally or internally imposed, destroys the campus climate for learning. To the predominantly residential college with its tradition of in loco parentis, even as this role is being redefined (Now-lis, 1966) , it may be at the price of abandoning whatever constructive remnants of such a role remain. Just as we ask students to consider the utility-risk ratio in their drug use, the administrator must consider the utility-risk ratio and engage in a cost-benefit analysis.

Being faced with crisis and dilemma is nothing new for institutions of higher education. However, certain aspects of this particular crisis are unique: society's response to it is excessive and simplistic; the nature of the drug behavior labeled criminal is so private that detection of it requires informers, undercover agents, and the invasion of privacy; and such methods drive the whole problem underground, so that those students who do or may get into difficulty as a result of their drug use cannot be reached and helped until they are really in desperate trouble—or in jail.

Our cost-benefit analysis will explore the impact of the institution's posture with respect to student drug use on its relationships both to society and its students.

Since the establishment of the land-grant college, society has been increasingly of two minds about higher education. It has demanded that higher education serve a dual role. First, it is expected to serve the existing order, this service being defined by some primarily in terms of the economy or the maintenance of currently prevalent attitudes and values. It is also expected, by a seemingly diminishing consensus, to examine and question the status quo and existing knowledge and belief. Few object when this questioning leads to developments which support advances in technology, but objection increases when the same process leads to analyzing, criticizing, and advocating changes in the current laws and mores. There is little recognition or acceptance of the fact that the conditions which foster innovation and creativity in science and technology cannot be confined to that domain. Man cannot be free to develop knowledge and critical understanding in one area if he is not free to do the same in all areas.

Freedom in inquiry is essential to the very existence of the university. On balance, this freedom has served society well throughout the centuries. The attempts of society, not just to criticize but to impose on the university its own methods for dealing with the drug issue—methods which violate the structure and the atmosphere essential to its very existence—go far beyond concern over student use of drugs. Such use in defiance of laws which are increasingly being questioned has become a focal point, a chink in the armor through which certain groups are attacking the intellectual and the academic community. The wheeling and dealing involved in trying to force educational institutions to adopt current methods of responding to behavior of which society does not approve adds to the dilemma of an already hard-pressed institution. Insistence on the part of many that a problem is being ignored if it is not being dealt with in a specified manner—in this case, police methods—no matter what the price, is unfair and shortsighted.

Fred Hechinger, of the New York Times, in evaluating the aftermath of the Stony Brook incident, wrote: "Having created a university, the state can also destroy what it has built but in doing so, the state diminishes and may destroy itself. The universities' part in preventing this is to maintain order in their communities, thereby making it easier to defend with all their might the 'no trespassing' sign that must guard their academic freedom." The university must be free to use methods which are appropriate to its structure and its spirit and to show that order can be maintained even when the status quo is examined and questioned.

The administrator—particularly if he is one whose responsibility is the general health and welfare of the student—must constantly be aware of the total climate of the campus as it affects all aspects of the student's growth and development. He, perhaps more than any other person, is continually impressed with the fact that there is no typical student, that each student is an individual with talents, abilities, experience, and ways of life which are unique. He is aware that students have already had almost two decades of living and learning when they enter college and bring to it a great diversity of attitudes, values, and goals. He knows that all students who show a given type of behavior cannot be treated in the same way, that failure, rebellion, depression, exploring the self, relieving boredom, facilitating social interaction, preparing for stress, and shutting out the world are not the same for everyone, and that uniform treatment of a specific type of behavior such as drug use has little or no meaning.

The administrator also knows that students other than those who engage in drug use may have many of the same problems, although they may show other types of symptomatic behavior. His only hope of helping students depends on searching out the reasons, the basic causes of the presenting behavior for each individual. Even if a given institution does not include in its goals the personal and social growth of the individual—and an increasing number do not—its modes of administrative handling of problem behavior will affect its total relationship with its students and the atmosphere in which its instructional activities occur. If the administrator's institution is concerned with learning outside the formal curriculum, if it is concerned with all of the factors which may interfere with formal instruction, there must be an atmosphere of trust, respect, open discussion, and free inquiry. If a student cannot seek counsel, either from a professional or from a faculty member, without threat of serious reprisals for both student and adviser, education in its broadest sense cannot occur. Recent events in New York State as a result of the Stony Brook incident have seriously threatened the ability of both faculty and administrators to influence constructively the growth and development of all students, not just the minority who may be either casually or seriously involved in drug use. It would seem that we may have reached the stage where even a faculty member must talk to students only from the lectern. Otherwise, he may have to make the decision that he is willing to face contempt charges and go to jail before daring to help or counsel a student who might mention drug use in discussing his problem. To engender suspicion and mistrust in one particular area may affect all areas.

It is clear, as reported in several preceding chapters, that drug use may attract some who are troubled and emotionally unstable. These of all drug users need help with their basic problems, not punishment of its symptoms. Laws which label such symptoms criminal effectively shut these individuals off from professional help and leave them to the ministrations of those of their peers who fortunately care. Even among the majority of students who do not use drugs, the whole range of motivations mentioned above may occur. The manifestations of these problems may happen to fall within behaviors which society, though not approving, does not consider criminal. Some of these students fail through no lack of ability, some sleep as much as eighteen hours a day, some drop out either literally or figuratively, and some resort to excessive eating or drinking. Some do what their elders do—what they are continually exhorted to do via TV and the mass media—and seek a chemical solution to their unhappiness and misery through legal chemicals, not the least of which is alcohol.

It is also clear from data presented in earlier chapters that most drug users and experimenters are not emotionally unstable or psychologically sick. Many of them are simply bored, unchallenged, disillusioned, and have a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness as they see society failing to deal with urgent problems arising from man's inhumanity to man. Some of them are bright enough and well-enough organized and disciplined to combine a high level of responsibility and achievement in their academic work with occasional to fairly regular drug use. As we have also pointed out throughout this book, no marked dichotomy exists between those who use drugs and those who do not, between those who experiment and those who use drugs with some degree of regularity—certainly not to the degree that all drug use deserves to bear the brunt of our wrath and our preachments. In the national preoccupation with drugs per se and in the persistent belief that drugs cause behavior, we have lost sight completely of the fact that the initial use of drugs is often only one manifestation of a disposition or decision to engage in new types of behavior. It is becoming increasingly evident that drug use does not cause but, rather, is caused by much of the behavior attributed to it and that drug use is only one manifestation of some fairly pervasive and basic problems which merit the attention of higher education. In focusing on a single symptom as manifested by only a minority of students, we may be neglecting, if not hampering, efforts to cope with basic problems which affect far more students than simply those who use drugs.

We pay a price for a simplistic and legalistic approach to the problems associated with drug use by forcing them underground, where they are not accessible to study and possible solution. We pay a price in terms of impairment of effectiveness in dealing constructively with a wide variety of student problems in the majority of non-users as well as users. We may fail to solve this problem, as well as others both current and future, by giving too little attention to the identification and solution of the basic problems of which this and other difficulties are merely symptoms.

Efforts at education on drugs and drug use are seriously hampered by current societal demands and by some institutional policies. Educators are in the uncomfortable position of knowing that most prevalent methods of drug education are ineffective and in many cases contribute to the very problem they seek to control. Most students simply will not accept as facts statements which are selected or reinterpreted to support a particular position. They reject moralizing and less-than-honest discussion. One needs only to listen to students who use drugs or who defend the right of others to do so to realize that neither preaching nor scare techniques work. Students do not accept the proposition that the effects of prolonged use or excessive amounts of a drug are "the effects" of any use of that drug. They know that millions of people use alcohol and that only a relatively small percentage become alcoholic. The use of marijuana has spread to the extent that they know of hundreds of people who use it with pleasure, with only a very small percentage showing any signs of the bizarre and horrible fate that is held before them. To follow this kind of educational approach leads only to being labeled as stupid or hypocritical. Neither label helps in efforts to deal with other less controversial problems.

An important part of any drug-education program must be accurate descriptions of the legal risks involved in drug use and of the legal penalties attached to violation of drug laws. The fact that, judged, by the penalties prescribed, the sharing of marijuana with one's friends is designated by our society as one of the most heinous crimes a person can commit—a crime as bad as or even worse than murder, rape, embezzlement, and burglary—can lead to some most interesting discussions. Laws so harsh that no lawyer wants to prosecute, no jury wants to convict, and no judge wants to sentence are a travesty on the function of criminal sanctions in our society. Such laws, particularly when it is almost impossible to enforce them, are an ideal target of rebellion, if what one wants is to rebel. Any effort to justify such laws is fruitless and leads only to further loss of credibility and integrity.

Even the better methods of drug education are often misdirected to the symptom rather than the cause. If a student really wants to get "high," there are more things with which he can accomplish this than we can possibly legislate against, even after we have identified them. Alcohol is still the major vehicle. In the long run, the need and not the vehicle is the appropriate target of study and action. Except for possible legal consequences, there are far more potentially devastating vehicles than marijuana.

The hostile and bitter responses and attitudes toward "education"' reported for high school students in the preceding chapter are also found in college students. They, too, want factual information minus moralizing and an honest discussion of pros and cons. They, too, want to communicate, not only about drug use but about their thoughts, feelings, disappointments, hopes and dreams and doubts as well as their joys and small victories, and, indeed, about their inability to communicate with parents and teachers.

The administrator, as the representative of an institution, by the kind of response he makes to the problems surrounding drug use—the policies, both written and unwritten, and the educational programs, both supported and unsupported—has an important impact on the institution's relationship both with its students and its community. Dishonesty in this area weakens credibility in all areas; hypocrisy generates wide distrust; reliance on external control and authoritative pronouncement weakens the development of internal controls and learning to make informed decisions. But the parents, the neighbors, the donors, the legislative committees must be kept happy. It could be that they need the educating.

Society seems to be asking that the administrator become an extension of civil authority; if he does, he loses his effectiveness as a counselor on serious intellectual and personal issues. Society asks that he, at the very least, force any drug user into compulsory therapy, even though he and his psychiatric colleagues have long since agreed that therapy should never be used as a disciplinary tool, primarily because no real therapy is possible under edict. Society demands that he support the party line on drugs and drug effects; if he does, his students will consider him either ignorant or hypocritical and neither label will increase his effectiveness as a teacher and a counselor. Society demands that he establish policies consistent with public policies; if he does, he drives users underground and loses all opportunity to educate, to counsel, to help, and to reduce risks for those who cannot be dissuaded. Society asks that he set up a system of detecting drug use; to use any of the means open to him or to introduce new agents would immediately dry up those channels through which he becomes aware of individual problems early enough to intervene. More than one tragedy has been averted because concerned individuals felt free to come to him in trust, confident that he, too, would be concerned and, would see that appropriate help was found.

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the whole problem of student drug use is the increasing polarity which has developed in response to it. If one questions the appropriateness of accepted methods of dealing with a problem, he is automatically and falsely charged with condoning the behavior involved. What the educational institution asks is that it be allowed to deal with student drug use as it deals with any other problem and with methods that do not violate its very existence and do not prevent it from serving its main function.


Our valuable member Bridget Kinsella has been with us since Monday, 20 February 2012.

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