MIT's Counterproductive Alcohol Policy
The continuing confusion over MIT's alcohol policies demonstrates that they are insufficient and inappropriate to meet the MIT community's need for a strong and reasonably understandable policy. It is time for MIT to step back from its initial attempt at policy-making and take a fresh look at the situation. The most appropriate way to deal with alcohol on campus is to return to the administration's previous rules: MIT should require nothing more than proper event registration and the enforcement of applicable state laws.
The current tangle of individual and group alcohol policies is having a detrimental effect on the MIT community. The policies have generated widespread confusion among students, faculty, and staff about which events are allowed and which are not. The new rules also contain a number of loopholes and omissions that make it unclear whether certain common types of events can ever be judged on anything other than a "case by case" basis. Confusion about the new, stricter policies is more than an inconvenience: if students are deterred from seeking medical assistance for fear of punishment, lives may be at risk. This is exactly the risk that new policies should be tailored to avoid, rather than exacerbate. Although the administration made an effort at reassuring students through a "good samaritan" clause, which makes calling for medical assistance a mitigating circumstance when considering punishment for violations, the provision has done little to alleviate the prevailing atmosphere of fear and confusion about the policy.
In addition, the new alcohol policies are also beginning to have a chilling effect on the campus social life, particularly on much needed faculty-student interaction. In the past, faculty and students interacted at departmental social functions, but, under the current policy, departments are now effectively faced with the choice of going dry, not inviting undergraduates, or simply choosing not to hold events at all. These are the types of social events that students have the most to gain from, and it is truly unfortunate that faculty and staff have been all but scared away from holding them.
The rules that have been adopted are a counterproductive response to the problems that arose last fall, and there are other solutions that would better fit MIT's needs. However, the sanctions that have been proposed for violating alcohol policy rules are constructive in that they clarify what disciplinary actions will be taken under what circumstances. Although the current alcohol policies are unsatisfactory, the idea of spelling out the punishments for violations is a good one and should be maintained no matter what the alcohol policy is.
The administration can also continue to tolerate groups that wish to impose more stringent rules on themselves. Living groups, for example, may choose to go dry or impose extra rules on who can be present at a given event. Such individuality should be encouraged, but not forced.
Most importantly, the administration should emphasize non-coercive ways for changing thinking about alcohol on campus. Specific education programs for Orientation or for living groups have been helpful in the past, and may be augmented in the future. Even better, increased faculty-student interaction - especially interaction on the social level - would go a long way toward meeting the current need for dialogue on alcohol.
These positive steps would be the first on a long road toward a more productive policy on alcohol use at MIT. But before they can be taken, MIT must first cast aside its current policy. The sooner this change is made, the sooner real dialogue can begin.