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MIT Clarifies Alcohol Policies

Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams speaks about the new penalty system for alcohol-related incidents at a press conference on Wednesday in Twenty Chimneys.

By David D. Hsu
Contributing Editor

On Wednesday the Institute announced a new system of standard citations and sanctions that it will use to deal with violations of alcohol policies.

Under the new system, violations are grouped into two categories. Category I violations involve the possession, consumption, and purchase of alcohol by people under the age of 21. Category II violations, which are more severe, include serving alcohol to underage or intoxicated people.

Sanctions resulting from violations would be based on the severity of the offense and whether the student had violated the alcohol policy in the past. The minimum sanction, given to a Category I first offense, is a face-to-face meeting with an Institute officer and a two-hour educational session. The most severe violation could result in fines of up to $1,500 and a recommendation for expulsion.

Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates will be responsible for enforcing the sanctions.

MIT worked to get a system that is "educational rather than primarily punitive," said Rosalind H. Williams, dean of students and undergraduate education.

Records of students' alcohol citations will be purged at the end of the spring term unless the violations were so severe that they resulted in action by the Institute's regular disciplinary system. This practice will be reviewed at the end of the term.

The events of last fall have highlighted gaps in the Institute's alcohol policy, Williams said. "We have always taken this seriously," Williams said. However, concerns about protecting the confidentiality of disciplinary processes prevented the office from disclosing information on penalties to the community.

The new system is only meant to address drinking by individuals; the ban on the use of Institute funds to purchase alcohol at events where people under 21 are present is still in effect.

In addition, the sanctions "do not directly address the problem of binge drinking," Williams said. The working group on the prevention of binge drinking headed by Professor Phillip A. Sharp and Chief of Pediatrics and Student Health Services Mark A. Goldstein will address those issues, she said.

Relative to other campuses, MIT has a higher percentage of non-drinkers and a lower percentage of binge drinkers, Williams said.

There are other shortcomings of the policy. "Definitions also need to be articulated for Œproviding' and Œintoxicated,'" said Associate Provost Phillip L. Clay.

According to the new policies, "providing" alcohol will be "defined by the following questions: Who bought the alcohol? Who served the alcohol? In whose room was the alcohol served?"

Police to have Œgreater vigilance'

Enforcement of the new system will occur at many levels, Bates said.

Information will be provided to the students, and the Institute will mostly rely on self-enforcement, Bates said. MIT "hopes the community will rally behind a reasonable" solution.

The Campus Police will not "beef up enforcement," in the sense of hiring more officers or having more patrols, said Chief of Police Anne P. Glavin. However, there will be "greater vigilance," she said.

In the past, the police just wrote a report and forwarded it to the Dean's Office, Glavin said. The Dean's Office could then have followed up with a variety of responses.

The new system provides a "tangible tool to underscore the seriousness" of offenses, Glavin said. Each year, there are about 15 to 20 alcohol incidents referred to the Dean's Office, Glavin said.

The citation system hopefully will give more realistic numbers, Bates said. Currently, only the Campus Police has the authority to issue citations, Williams said. MITwill consider giving other officials authority.

Students expected to help others

In addition to establishing the new system, the Instituteencourages students to help those with alcohol problems.

"We must make absolutely clear that we expect students or other community members who observe a medical or other emergency to call for help," Bates said.

If a person who places a call for help is found to be in violation of the policy, "the fact that he or she placed the call will be considered a mitigating circumstance when sanctions are imposed," Bates said.

As a result, students will be more ready to call for help, Williams said. With the penalties clearly spelled out, students will not fear the worst punishments.