EDITORIAL: Alcohol policy still ambiguous despite newly available data

As we revisit the new alcohol policy implemented by the university at the beginning of this academic year, a topic we promised to tackle in Tuesday’s editorial, we implore university officials for more transparency. Although we contacted numerous administrators about our intent to monitor the success of the policy when it was implemented in August, specifically looking into the use of money raised by the fines, we have been denied access to any information about the amount of money the university has gained from the new fines.

We believe the amount students have paid in fines and where the fine money is being spent is highly valuable information for Marquette students, as it concerns their own money. However, Stephanie Quade, dean of students, said she is not releasing figures for fines in order to respect student confidentiality.

“In terms of the fines collected, as we discussed earlier in the semester, I needed to do some consultation with colleagues as the semester progressed — and also think more critically about making those numbers public,” Quade said in an email. “As I mentioned to you, I am charged specifically by the university and by federal law to hold in confidence the outcome of individual student conduct cases.”

While we understand the need for confidentiality in conduct cases, we are not requesting any names or information that would be protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. We would simply like to know the total amount collected in fines from the fall 2012 semester, as well as the average amount of a fine per student. We do not see this request as unreasonable considering the fact that the categories for fining and approximate fine amounts are listed in the description of the new policy.

Fall 2012 saw a significant decrease in the number of alcohol referrals for potential violations from fall 2011. The number was cut exactly in half, dropping from 654 to 327. This number does not reflect the number of actual violations determined by the student conduct board. While we cannot definitively state the cause of this decrease, many factors may have contributed, such as what constitutes a violation – being in the presence of alcohol, for example, is no longer an alcohol referral. We believe the alcohol policy also likely played a large part.

As we said in our August editorial about the new policy changes, we are not opposed to fines or different rules designed to promote responsible drinking habits. We recognize that many other universities have similar policies and that fines are probably more effective in encouraging responsible drinking behavior than disciplinary hearings alone. We also do not want our university to be a place prospective students associate first and foremost as a “party school.” We commend the administration for its commitment to student health, safety and well-being. Still, we would hope to be able to give student input on the policy and to be informed about where this money is going.

Quade said the funds would be used for student programming and alcohol-alternative activities. If given more information, we could evaluate these programs and the use of the money and possibly even move on from the discussion entirely if we feel the information adequately answers student questions and meets students’ needs. Additionally, we could provide new suggestions for alcohol-alternative activities that might now be possible with the money available for programming. We just want to determine whether the funds actually increase the number of programs offered, how much more money will be allocated to previously existing programs and if this increase in funding is significant. After all, the money collected is students’ money, and we expect the administration to spend it in a manner consistent with its claims. As we did in August, we find the university’s response now to our inquiries ambiguous and disappointing.

To quote Marquette’s mission statement, “our mission, therefore, is the search for truth (and) the discovery and sharing of knowledge.” We hope to see more cooperation from the university as we continue to pursue this knowledge and put it in proper context.

  • http://www.facebook.com/luke.owens.9849 Luke Owens

    Odd that it’s against a privacy policy to let us know where the countless thousands of dollars donated via checks made out ambiguously to ‘Marquette University’ are going, yet the number of alcohol violations are publicly available.