Underage drinking became the focal point of a Michigan Student Assembly forum on the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, also known as The Code, last night. The forum was intended to address a range of student issues, including landlord-tenant conflicts and the University’s disciplinary process.

Doug Lewis, director of Student Legal Services, said minor-in-possession violations are the only offenses that the Department of Public Safety reports to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution – the University body that enforces the Code – in all cases. Students discussed what they characterized as the University’s self-contradictory alcohol policy.

Participants involved in the discussion said the University’s health services focus on moderating alcohol consumption by discouraging binge drinking and promoting medical treatment when students are sick. OSCR, on the other hand, pushes to end underage drinking altogether, participants said.

For example, University Hospital and University Health Service employees were educated this past summer about HIPAA regulations protecting patient privacy.

HIPAA allows students to be treated for alcohol-related problems without the fear of legal repercussions. Hospital employees are routinely tested on this policy. Exceptions to the policy are cases involving violence or cases when police escort students to the hospital.

On the other hand, every time a student receives a MIP charge on campus, it is reported to the University, and each violator is sent a letter informing him of his responsibility to complete an alcohol education and counseling program through OSCR. Susan Wilson, a representative from the Office of Student Activities and Leadership, described the process as “an opportunity for educational intervention.”

But OSCR representative Bob Coffey said the office has a dual role as disciplinarian and educator. OSCR’s responsibility is to uphold the Code, which Coffey said is not written by OSCR.

“It’s a document we’re the custodians of,” he said.

In reality, however, OSCR must first approve all proposed changes to the Code before they are passed on to next stage of consideration.

The Code – which is revised every two years – underwent changes in April that spelled out what constitutes sexual harassment and instituted more severe penalties for hate-motivated harassment. One change that the University did not accept was MSA’s proposal to allow students to have lawyers present at hearings on Code violations.

OSCR was created as an alternative to the Department of Public Safety to provide students an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. But some students said last night that OSCR’s alcohol program is simply another layer to the punitive process. Lewis said students may find it difficult to view OSCR as a friendly organization because the office has the power to enforce penalties as severe as expulsion.

While underage drinking generated the most heated discussion, other topics about students’ rights were also broached.

Lewis and Wilson raised the question of whether the University should invest more of its energies on student life, instead of focusing almost exclusively on academics. Lewis said the University’s policies shift between acting in loco parentis – that is, as students’ surrogate parents, a philosophy that students attacked and that the University largely abandoned in the 1960s and ’70s – and adopting a laissez-faire stance toward students. The University, he said, is now heading back toward in loco parentis.

According to forum coordinator Daniel Taylor-Cohart, who also serves as co-chair of MSA’s Students’ Right Commission, the purpose of the meeting was to “allow students the opportunity to learn about (students services).”

 

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