Dangerous Public Relations Ploy
Monday's announcement of a new cooperative effort to curb underage and dangerous drinking forged by the Boston Coalition between 24 area colleges and universities, including MIT, seems nothing more than political pandering. The agreement appears to be an attempt by local universities to divert the attention of the Boston media, the Boston Licensing Board, and Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II. Many of the document's provisions, such as suggesting that professors include alcohol-awareness material in a variety of different subjects, are simply laughable and indicate that the signatories do not intend the document to be realistically implementable.
While we do not expect MIT to significantly alter its policies in light of the commitment it has just signed, the document is still worrisome since MIT may fall back on it when it re-examines alcohol policies at a later date. Several of the document's provisions, while seemingly benign, could prove disastrous if actually implemented.
The coalition recommends universities "engage parents in the event that their son or daughter has jeopardized his/her residential or university status as a result of underage or problem drinking," and that administrators "engage parents, as appropriate, in the event that their son or daughter has exhibited behavior that presents an alcohol-related health threat to him/herself or others." MIT has traditionally prided itself on treating students as adults. Implementation of these provisions would mark a major step backward from this policy.
Also troubling are the paternalistic tones of both the document and the process by which it was formed. The text appears to characterize students as incapable of behaving reasonably without supervision. Moreover, students were barely involved in the drafting of the proposals, with no MIT students involved in a significant way. While it is necessary for a body of 24 organizations to limit the number of people actively participating in discussion, students deserved a special role in these talks, as they will be the ones affected by any new policies flowing from the discussions.
Given these important concerns, students at MIT and other colleges in the Boston area can only hope that this document is nothing more than what it initially appears to be - a public relations ploy. If the proposals are enacted as written, it would represent a major shift away from policies that treat students as intelligent adults capable of making their own choices.