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Tutors say alcohol liability is unclear

By Sarah Keightley

There is growing concern among MIT graduate residence tutors that they could be held personally liable in situations involving alcohol.

Some tutors are not sure where they stand. Wade A. Jacoby G of Next House said the Institute is trying to relieve itself of some liability, but "liability can be neither created nor destroyed. Maybe it can be created, but it has to be recycled onto someone's shoulders." He said most Next House floor tutors feel comfortable with the situation, but are a bit nervous. "I personally am not yet satisfied that I know where tutor liability begins and ends."

Jacoby said, "Tewhey's been explicit on one point: If tutors don't break any state laws, they wouldn't be personally liable." However, Jacoby said he did not find this completely reassuring, adding that "courts exist to fill in all the gray areas and people get sued."

Baker floor tutor Sylvain Le'vesque G said the people who organize dormitory parties are the most liable, but "as a tutor, you are extremely liable, as you are someone who works for MIT and you have the responsibility to create an environment in the dorm that is conducive to studying."

Robert E. Gruber G, a graduate tutor at Burton-Connor House, said he does not believe tutors are concerned about liability issues.

Underage drinking is one of the main issues of liability. Even though the party organizers are technically the ones breaking the law, "if there's underage drinking and you are aware of it, yes you feel liable," Le'vesque said.

"Even if we see a student with a beer that we know is underage and we don't say anything, it's not illegal, but it is bad judgment. As a tutor, you can be found negligent," said Senior House Tutor Henry H. Houh G.

Houh said one topic discussed at a Senior House tutor meeting was that tutors would not be able to go to any party because underage drinking occurs at every MIT party. "If I go and something happens, then I'm partially responsible" in the eyes of the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs, Houh said.

Tutors have to be careful that what they say to minors with alcohol does not make students upset, Houh said. "I've had to say something to some people before, and it puts us in a hard position. None of the tutors want to become police officers and no one wants to have to write up people for alcohol violations. We don't have enforcement power," Houh said.

According to Houh, this issue of tutor's liability has become increasingly important since the drinking age was raised six years ago.

Le'vesque said, "I don't see our liability decreasing [in the future] given that MIT probably will never be a dry campus."