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Dean of Students Responds to Amnesty Proposal

Says rumor mill’s version of University practice is inaccurate


Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore plans a full review of policies related to campus drug and alcohol use at semester’s end. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore has dismissed the need for an immediate change that would guarantee blanket amnesty for students who seek medical attention because of alcohol or drug use.

In a five-page letter sent Monday to Matt Seidel (CAS’10) in response to the Student Union president’s call for a change in policy, Elmore explained, “When the University learns of a student’s illegal possession or use of alcohol or drugs as a result of that student’s seeking medical assistance for him- or herself, or another person, that student ordinarily will not be subject to University disciplinary sanctions … so long as the student completes all education and counseling programs recommended by the University.”

In an interview with BU Today, Elmore said persistent rumors suggesting that students who seek medical help for alcohol- or drug-related emergencies are routinely dismissed from University housing, or from school, are not true.

“We don’t kick people out of school because they drink too much the first time, even if they are under 21,” he said. “Most students who seek help for themselves or for friends undergo our alcohol assessment program and our disciplinary program and are not in trouble again. They are still in school, and they continue their lives here.” 

Elmore said the University strives to treat people as individuals. “At the same time,” he said, “people have to remember that they have to be accountable for their actions and not create circumstances where there is risk to their health and safety.”

The dean’s letter to Seidel said that in cases involving sexual assault or abuse, the student who was abused would not be subject to discipline. He also told Seidel that the University would review its current policies and practices concerning disciplinary sanctions at the end of the current academic year.

Seidel said he was pleased that the University was making an effort “to be more transparent,” and he applauded the decision to excuse from disciplinary action students who have suffered sexual abuse in an alcohol-related incident. But the Student Union president, who had urged BU to follow the lead of Harvard, Northeastern, and most recently, Emerson in promising that students seeking medical assistance for alcohol- and drug-related emergencies would be shielded from school disciplinary measures if they are found to be intoxicated when calling for help, said he still hoped that the University would adopt a policy that would allow all students to come forward without a threat of disciplinary action.

“They are still saying ‘ordinarily’ students won’t be punished,” said Seidel. “But ‘ordinarily’ isn’t a guarantee. ‘Ordinarily’ is basically saying, ‘We may still punish you,’ and in that sense, nothing has really changed. The issue is about trust. Students want to trust that if they come forward, they won’t be punished, and you can’t have complete trust in an environment where they use the word ‘ordinarily.’”

Seidel also said he thought it was great that the administration planned to review its policies concerning marijuana, sexual assault, and medical amnesty.

“Clearly, we’ve shaken things up a bit,” he said. “We got the administration to realize the immensity of this problem. I feel that it’s a good start and a good process, but the fight goes on. I am determined to see a medical amnesty policy at BU.”

Additional reporting by Amy Laskowski.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu. Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.


17 Comments on Dean of Students Responds to Amnesty Proposal

  • Mike on 03.18.2009 at 7:32 am

    BU has the chance to be progressive and do something that a majority of universities and colleges don’t do and to serve as an example to these other schools. But as per the norm with the BU administration they decide to more or less sit idly and feed their students some easy, politically correct answer. It’s about time for the administration to start taking better care of it’s students. And maybe they will begin to see their students take more pride in the university and show it through financial contributions back to the university…just a thought

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 8:40 am

    Why not "ordinarily"?

    Honestly, I don’t see what’s wrong with saying “ordinarily”. To completely guarantee that students won’t be punished 100% of the time is NOT to make allowances for special circumstances. For example, what if the student who is in need of medical assistance has directly caused harm to another student? Hypothetically, say a student was drinking at a party that went out of control, started a fight with another student while drunk, and pushed him out of a window. One could easily argue that the first student deserves some kind of punishment. Even if others disagree, the university should at least be given the chance to review the case, and I think using language like “ordinarily” allows the university to have that latitude.

  • Upset Student on 03.18.2009 at 8:56 am

    “Ordinarily” in a country with laws, such as no drinking under the age of 21, people must abide by those laws. Seidel, the students here are not children. They need to be held accountable for their actions. When they enter the real world and move off campus, the police don’t give people complete amnesty for abusing drugs.

    And if you’ve stood in the Warren Towers lobby on a Friday or Saturday night, you”ll understand just how important school disciplinary measures are in controlling a zoo.

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 10:23 am

    re: BU has the chance to be progressive and do something … I totally miss your point here. What something are you proposing?

    I personally find it commendable that BU chose NOT to jump on a slogan of ‘Amnesty for Everyone’ but reasserted it’s nuanced position of ‘in loco parentis’.

    One size fits all may be fine for exam gloves, but not for student discipline and support.

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 10:54 am

    Two points: 1) Dean Elmore

    Two points:
    1) Dean Elmore specifically says, ““Most students who seek help for themselves or for friends undergo our alcohol assessment program and our disciplinary program and are not in trouble again. They are still in school, and they continue their lives here.”

    A lot of this debate assumes expulsion from housing and from the university are the only sanctions BU can impose on underage drinkers. What Dean Elmore is essentially conceding is that nearly everyone who gets caught drinking underage, whatever the circumstance, will be punished, but to a lesser degree. I use that phrase loosely, because “lesser degree” entails a $250 fine and “deferred residence separation” (de facto housing expulsion, but students remain in housing anyway) probation for at least two semesters after the incident in question. Additionally, students who are punished in any way at BU are in violation of the Code of Student Responsibilities, and as such, forfeit their rights to any and all merit-based financial aid. Usually, BU lets students keep their scholarships after a one-time offense, but the decision is ultimately discretionary. For a first offense, therefore, students could lose all their scholarships. For a second, students will most likely not only forfeit all aid money BU gives them based on merit, but they also forfeit university housing. Relative to almost every other school in the Northeast, those first-time and second-time sanctions alone are excessive and harsh, a hold-over from the anti-student days of the Silber administration. In 2009, such a policy is backward, unfair, and potentially life-threatening, because…

    2) Some day, as a result of our judicial policies, a student here is going to die from alcohol poisoning. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. If I had to guess, I’d speculate that this student will be a second-time offender who receives substantial merit-based aid from BU. His/her friends will know s/he will forfeit all of it if s/he is caught drinking, so they will try to deal with him/her on their own. And s/he will die as a consequence.

    I work at a summer camp for teenagers. We have a medical amnesty policy for them, even though none of them are over the age of 21, because we recognize how dangerous it would be not to. If high school students can be granted that kind of medical protection, what reason is there to deny it to BU?

    Dean Elmore, this policy needs to change. Do something before it is too late.

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 11:03 am

    Massachusetts was founded by Puritans. It looks like most of the people commenting on this page want to keep it that way. Maybe you should support an effort that could help save someone’s life instead of trying to punish them all the time. This isn’t an issue of whether or not you feel underage drinking is justifiable. This is an issue of whether or not you want someone to die because they fear the consequences of seeking medical attention for themselves.

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 11:03 am

    BU may knock this idea around and talk about it, but it won’t happen. The fact of the matter is that BU administration as a whole does not care about the students’ rights. The goal of BU’s policies is 100% control over the students.

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 11:31 am

    Recognizing the Immensity of the Problem?

    According to Seidel: “We got the administration to realize the immensity of this problem.”

    Really? What gave him that indication?

    Elmore: “Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore has dismissed the need for an immediate change that would guarantee blanket amnesty for students who seek medical attention because of alcohol or drug use.”

    Yes, he sounds very concerned…

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 11:35 am

    RE: Why not "ordinarily"?

    Then punish him for throwing the student out the damn window!

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 12:05 pm

    re: “Ordinarily” in a country with laws

    in a country with laws if you call for help while intoxicated and an ambulance comes to bring you to the hospital, then neither the emt’s or the hospital staff would turn you over to the police…so why should students be turned over to their university?

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 12:21 pm

    Absurdity in Medical Amnesty Policy?

    If this so called medical amnesty policy were enacted, it would allow any student who thought they could not pass for sober to seek medical attention to avoid the possibility of punishment for their state of intoxication or highness or whatever they might be on. This would lead to more students seeking medical attention un-needingly . However, if a student is that badly intoxicated then maybe thier decision to seek medical help only in an attempt to avoid punishment might save thier life. Or, they may simply take up attention that should be given to someone actually in need of it. I think that a lot of factors need to be thought of considering this issue, and although medical amnesty has been adopted by many other schools, does not mean it should be adopted here as well. These schools may experience repercussions to this policy that they are unaware of or that BU is not prepared to face yet. I just wanted to throw a word of caution out there before jumping to any strong conlcusions on either side of the spectrum.

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 1:41 pm

    Boozing while on Scholarship

    These underage students really shouldn’t be screwing around here with alcohol on campus if they are on scholarship. That is a privilege and an honor to get that aid from the university. Especially now with the economic downturn, students are praying for any type of financial aid. If they want to keep it, they will abide by university policy. This is not harsh, this is common sense.

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 2:51 pm

    "you must be trippin" poster

    Has anybody seen that BU poster saying ” you think you can put one over us?with over …. cases of student misconduct that is not happening”(or something like that but you get the meaning).
    When we are in such a school how can anyone expect a more lenient drug and alcohol policy.Any person i know who has been caught with marijuana has been kicked out (one of them was caught because his weed supposedly made the corridor smell but in absence of his presence?).Only in cases of international students the consequences might be less harsh because of the concequences something like that could have on their immigration status.
    And the most absurd thing on that issue is that marijuana was decriminalized in the recent elections.Nevertheless, BU abuses the power a private institution has and still does not allow, or rather harshly penalizes students in possesion or use of marijuana.But always remembers stoners out there, it s no more a police issue(its is just a fine of $100).
    Concerning the amnesty now i can not avoid saying that it is nothing but a fiasco.When someone becomes a doctor, he swears on the ancient Greek father of medicine Ipokratis that anything between him and a patient is private information that the doctor is not allowed to discuss with anyone other than the patient.Anyways to cut a long story short in other countries a doctor can lose his licence because of breaking that rule.
    Finally, what can you expect from a school who awards turn ins like as if you turn in someone who ripped a poster from a public board you get rewarded (with money for god sake).
    I don’t see any way in which this school is running like a democratic institution respecting the needs and rights of the students and to tell you the truth i have not much hope things will change.

  • Anonymous on 03.18.2009 at 3:45 pm

    EMT dude

    re: “Ordinarily” in a
    Submitted on Wed, 03/18/2009 12:05 pm.
    re: “Ordinarily” in a country with laws in a country with laws if you call for help while intoxicated and an ambulance comes to bring you to the hospital, then neither the emt’s or the hospital staff would turn you over to the police…so why should students be turned over to their university?

    Because this is a private university. If a student wants to party it up to the point that they need a transport to a hospital, they don’t belong here.

    Head over to zoo-mass.

  • AP on 03.18.2009 at 4:53 pm

    Why not publicize this?

    Rather than change anything, BU should publicize what the existing rules are: what will happen in most cases if you call for medical help because you or your friend is drunk/overdosing/sexually assaulted, and what will happen in most cases if you are caught with alcohol or drugs.

    As a recent alum, I have to say that the lack of knowledge of the consequences of alcohol or drug use resulted in some very ridiculous and dangerous rumors circulating around the dorms freshman year. Among the rumors I heard were:
    a) if you are caught in the presence of alcohol, you will be get a fine or kicked out of housing
    b) if you are in the presence of someone who is drunk, you will get a fine or kicked out of housing.
    c) if you report someone for being drunk, you will get a fine or kicked out of housing.

    Ironically, these misconceptions tend to harm the responsible students who aren’t intoxicated, as they end up being the “babysitters” or “caretakers” of those who are too intoxicated to take care of themselves. The drunk kids were never the ones holding their friend over a trashcan, shaking her every few seconds to assure that she’s still conscious, or waking up their drunk friend and rolling him onto his side to make sure he doesn’t aspirate his own vomit, or restraining their friend taking medication for a mental disorder who became suicidal or violent from a drug interaction with the illicit drug she did or alcohol she drank.

    The students in these situations were the sober ones, the ones who abstained from drinking or drug use, and ended up as caretakers in dangerous situations they couldn’t handle because they did not know how to summon help without being the “narc” who got their friend expelled from housing.

    Spell out the law in the student handbook, explaining the penalties for most offenses and the protocol for intoxicated students requesting medical assistance, and sober students requesting medical assistance on behalf of intoxicated students.

    Those who end up in the caretaker position should know how to get help for those who need it. Most intoxicated students are too intoxicated to realize they need help. Their sober friends must feel confident in knowing how and when to access help, lest the situation take a turn for the worst. I believe a clear spelling-out of the existing policy would address this concern.

  • Olivia on 03.18.2009 at 7:20 pm

    Damage Control

    First, if a student is caught with alcohol in the dorms, the punishment for that seems reasonable. The policy in respect to marijuana is unreasonable, considering the state just decriminalized the plant. Secondly, even if someone doesn’t have marijuana on them, they can still be kicked out of housing (what happened to innocent till proven guilty?). Dean Elmore needs to get more in touch with the student body and about what really goes down.

    Secondly, it is an apathetic move on Dean Elmore’s part because he is basically saying that it’s okay for students to be scared of university jurisdiction over their health and safety. Maybe there will be student who drinks too much and takes advantage of a system with medical amnesty, but judgment on this depends on what you value more: dealing with the burden of certain people, while ensuring the safety of EVERYONE, or propping up fluid, arbitrary rules that do more damage than prevent it.

  • Anonymous on 03.19.2009 at 7:25 am

    The term “dismissed” is the reporter’s, not Elmore’s.

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