Northeastern’s Ludacris PunishmentThe old adage “the punishment must fit the crime” can largely be agreed upon by any group, but is seldom if ever followed in practice. Consider Northeastern University. After the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, large celebrations turned to riots in and around the Northeastern campus. A significant number, though nobody would even consider saying all, of the rioters are believed to be students. The result of the rioting was the death of a Northeastern student’s brother (when an SUV plowed through crowds) and significant vandalism in the surrounding areas. Another result? Northeastern President Richard M. Freeland decided to cancel the university’s Springfest concert with headline act Ludacris, akin to dismantling MIT’s Spring Weekend concert.
It should be recognized that this is not just a loss of a privilege for the students, but also a loss of money. The school decided to increase student activity fees at the beginning of the year from $36 to $100 with the explicit intent to attract bigger headline names such as Ludacris for the Springfest concert.
Why the sudden jump from punishing a few to an entire group? Originally, Northeastern and the police had set up a Web site of traffic cameras that were able to get pictures of rioters, and offered rewards for their accurate identification. Ten suspects’ names were already given the day after the riots. Recently, six students were identified and will appear in district court on April 5. This is on top of three arrests made on the night of the riots, seven expulsions from the school and other disciplinary action against two other students.
Clearly, there is unfairness to the action. The term rioters was too quickly equated with students. The student that watched the Super Bowl and went to bed and the student that hates football will suffer unjustly from the decision. Boston residents and visitors that contributed to the riots may not suffer at all. Mayor Thomas Menino has even come out saying that the two main causes of the riots were alcohol sales on Sunday and the lack of university security patrols. Examination of the campus’s alcohol policy may be in order, something that was undertaken at Ohio State earlier this year after chaotic football riots took place. So again, why punish the students in this manner?
Freeland, to his credit, does not dance around the issues involved. “Right now, you are on everyone’s radar screens as students in this town,” he said. “It became clear that the concert was being perceived as Northeastern University conducting business as usual, and this is not the time for business as usual ... Life isn’t fair that way, but I think it’s reality,” he said.
It is indeed an unfair truth that perception rules the day. College students in general suffer from the perception that they are all feckless and rambunctious teenagers. Northeastern University needed to create the community perception that they were cracking down on rioting, and it was more feasible to garner headlines and approval with a concert shutdown than toting around their disciplinary record. In the end, Northeastern loses along with the students, but when you choose to make judgments to appease perceptions, it’s a punishment that fits the crime.