Teaching conduct tricky challenge

KU student Jason Wren died March 8 at a fraternity house off-campus after a night of heavy drinking.
His father said he had asked the university to tell him about his son’s behavior but had been told they could not because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which shields student grades, health and behavior information.
With the help of a lawyer, Mr. Wren discovered that his son had been kicked out of his school dormitory and had been reprimanded several times for violating dormitory rules covering alcoholic beverages.
Jason had told his dad that he was ousted from the dorm for having a few cans of beer in his room; beer, he said, he was holding for a friend.
His death has sparked a debate over university policies in the state. The federal law has room for interpretation. K-State, for example, does inform parents when students violate liquor rules re-peatedly.
Mr. Wren now says he would have taken his son out of KU and brought him home where he could monitor his actions if he had been informed.
Jason’s death was not an isolated incident. National statistics cited by the Associated Press indicate alcohol will kill thousands of underage drinkers this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 5,000 underage deaths each year are caused by excessive alcohol use.
KU officials explain their interpretation of the law by saying students want to be independent and learn to live in a real world where they, rather than their parents, make their behavioral decisions. They also say that there are no statistics indicating that notifying parents changes student behavior.
This is another damn-ed-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t dilemma.
Perhaps the best resolution would be to have the universities themselves give students who abuse alcohol or drugs at a level that endangers them or others the choice between leaving school and undergoing professional treatment for their addiction or dependence. Declaring that drug and alcohol abuse will not be tolerated from students, staff or faculty also teaches students how to handle themselves in the “real world.” Students should get kicked out of school for irreponsible behavior just as employees are fired from most jobs when they show up for work drunk or stoned. Giving students the option of effective treatment is also realistic and could prove to be a life saver, literally.
Jason Wren’s father also suggested that the fraternity where the boy died should “dry itself out.”
And that brings up another problem. College fraternities and many college campuses have long been synonymous with liquor-fueled fun. Many students feel they are expected to binge drink and some fraternities reinforce that expectation.
Most students soon learn that liquor and learning don’t mix but it shouldn’t be necessary for them to learn the hard way. Universities should work to avoid a party-school label and should boot fraternities and sororities that encourage hard drinking as a rite of passage.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.