Police State U

By October 18, 2005

Check out “Keeping a Close Watch on Students” on Inside Higher Ed. It tells only the latest story of universities’ encroachment into students’ lives, this time at the University of Rhode Island:

About 150 students rallied Monday in protest of university policy changes that will allow students who live off-campus—as a majority do—to be referred to the university judicial system for things that happen outside campus borders.

This is not new. I have received reports of universities with ever more invasive polices for years and, as the article notes, “Rhode Island officials noted that most of the university’s peer institutions have policies that extend off campus to varying degrees.” It seems that in loco parentis has not only returned, but now the universities have the resources to extend it beyond even Dean Wormer’s greatest dreams.

Gary Pavela brings some sanity to the discussion:

Gary Pavela, director of Judicial Programs at the University of Maryland at College Park and an expert on campus judicial systems, said institutions should tread lightly when extending policies off campus. He said that “treating students like children eventually induces them to behave like children,” and added that universities sometimes find themselves taking on an enforcement role they aren’t prepared for as communities demand more and more involvement. “Administrators have to keep in mind that they’re first priority is to manage educational institutions, not police departments,” he said.

I could not agree with him more. The article goes on to highlight George Washington University’s latest invasion of basic rights:

And Rhode Island students might not be the only ones hiding their candles. George Washington University hired an outside company, HRH Risk Mitigation, Inc., to conduct five unannounced searches of every room on-campus per calendar year. Officials said the main goal is to rid rooms of fire hazards by confiscating halogen lamps, candles, and incense and donating them to local charities. A fire last March caused by a George Foreman grill helped propel the new system which Nancy Haaga, director for auxiliary and institutional services, said is “an issue of manpower. We didn’t have enough trained staff to cover every room.”

GW administrators have a lousy history of protecting the basic rights of both students and faculty, but this is overachieving even for them.

Schools: George Washington University University of Rhode Island