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Use of house tax probed

By Chris Schechter

The issue of spending dormitory house taxes on alcohol was raised by the Undergraduate Association Committee on Student Life at an open forum last Tuesday.

The meeting followed a survey conducted by the committee on Registration Day, Jan. 31. Of the 305 people who answered the survey, 43 percent responded that they were against using dormitory funds for alcohol. Over half of the others who responded disapproved of spending a large proportion of house taxes on alcohol.

The committee has been wrestling with the issue of underage students paying a house tax which, when it becomes part of a house social fund, is often spent on alcohol.

Several alternatives to spending dormitory funds on alcohol were discussed at the meeting. The possibilities ranged from keeping the status quo of using house taxes to purchase alcohol, to not spending dormitory funds on alcohol, to separating house funds for alcohol purchases.

The issue was raised by a large number of students who voiced their discontent with the situation. "The trust behind our efforts is coming from the concern expressed over and over by the students who don't have a choice but to live on campus," said J. Paul Kirby '92, chair of the Committee on Student Life.

The committee will submit a set of recommendations to James R. Tewhey, associate dean for student affairs, by the end of March. The dean made it clear that he would take the students' input into account before he makes any decision on the alcohol policy, according to members of the committee.

Most of the committee is made up of students; other members include William B. Watson, Baker House headmaster, Sylvain Levesque G, a floor tutor in Baker House, Andrew M. Eisenmann, assistant dean for student affairs and Neal H. Dorow, advisor to fraternities and independent living groups.

Due to the low turnout at the forum, most of the student input so far has been restricted to the results of the poll. The committee judged the poll's 15-percent response rate to be good.

The options debated at the forum ranged from not spending any house tax funds on alcohol to having over-21 students regulate underage drinking in the dorms. Although the committee's goal is to achieve a student-based policy, the latter option was rejected by Watson based on past experience.

"We are trying to reach a pragmatic and applicable solution," said Levesque. In order to achieve this, the committee has consulted with the Medical Department, graduate resident tutors, dormitory headmasters and Robert A. Sherwood, former associate dean of student affairs at MIT and current dean of student development at Boston College.

The problem of the house tax is a multifaceted one. There are concerns over the insurance liability of the Institute as well as the effectiveness of any proposed remedy. "How do we know if a decreased dormitory budget will lead to decreased alcohol purchases?" Dorow asked.

Currently, students pay a house tax to the Bursar's Office. The Bursar's Office then redistributes lump sums to each dorm. One of the possibilities discussed was to have the Bursar keep the sums and control all purchases by the dorms.

"Before any action is taken, we have to institute a comprehensive educational program such as the one in Boston College," Levesque said. The role of the committee is not to make the campus dry, but rather to institute responsible drinking, he said.

A second forum on the issue will be held at the beginning of March, before the report is submitted to the dean and the UA. Kirby expects a better turnout at the next forum. "I don't think the students realize that we are trying to give them more choice," he said.