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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato


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Alcohol policy faces criticism at open forum

Most panelists reject idea that MSU is intruding too far into students' lives

by Derek Wehrwein

Issue date: 11/25/08 Section: Campus News
Minnesota State officials defended proposed changes to the school's off-campus alcohol and drug policy at an open forum Thursday while welcoming student feedback and constructive criticism.

In a 90-minute discussion in the Centennial Student Union, Mankato Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Huettl, Minnesota State Student Association President Ryan Anderson, MSU President Richard Davenport and other university officials debated the merits of the changes and took questions from students, staff and faculty.

Anderson was the only panelist to object strongly to the proposed policy, which subjects students to university sanctions for off-campus drug or alcohol violations. MSSA unanimously opposes the policy change, criticizing it as a parental measure that intrudes too far into students' personal lives.

Other panelists rejected that idea on Thursday, however, arguing the proposed changes did no such thing.

"We do need to behave responsibly," Davenport said. "We're not overstepping our bounds when we ask students to behave responsibly. We're not overstepping our bounds when we find issues and problems with underage drinking. We're not unique in trying to address those problems."

Davenport said the off-campus behavior of those connected to the school - from president down to students - reflects on the university, a sentiment echoed by others on the panel.

Huettl noted that, as an MSU alumnus, he understood the need to adopt a policy with a sense of fairness to it. But high-risk and underage drinking have gotten worse in recent years, he said, making it necessary to adopt more aggressive measures against it.

"The problem is not all MSU students, but when the community as a whole generally says, 'it's those damn students,' we have to take a more proactive step," Huettl said.

Many in the audience didn't seem to think the proposed policy was the type of proactive step needed. One such person was Center for Scholarship and Research Director Steve Bohnenblust.

Bohnenblust called the proposed policy a "a significant expansion of jurisdiction" and criticized it for being "a punishment-first type of policy." He and MSSA Off-campus senator Kris Lovstad both expressed concern about the use of the word "nexus" in the policy, referring to the part that states:

"The jurisdiction of the policy extends to the alcohol and other drug related activity of any student or employee that creates a nexus which adversely affects the educational, research, or service functions of the university."

Lovstad asked for a definition of the term "nexus."

"You've asked the million dollar question," answered Health Science faculty member Roy Kammer, who helped draft the new policy. "We as drafters are still struggling with that word."

Anderson said he thought the university's definition of a "nexus" should be limited to university-sponsored events, events held on campus or major civil disturbances.

Another in the audience, Vice President of Institutional Diversity Michael Fagin, said the element of trust "needs to be massaged a bit" with students. Noting students' concerns about civil liberties and privacy, he urged university officials to strive for a balanced policy.

Davenport, Kammer and Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities Mary Dowd said that's what they're trying to do.

"It's not my intent to start out punishment first," said Davenport, while Dowd spoke of supporting core values of civility and integrity and Kammer the need for a policy that represents MSU's on-campus culture.

Davenport and Dowd also emphasized the university's desire to educate and help students subject to sanctions through programs - not just punish them.

Dowd indicated university officials are subject to the same standards to which students are being held. She said courts don't view policies such as this as double jeopardy - trying a defendant twice for the same crime, something prohibited by the Fifth Amendment. Nor was the university overreaching in its jurisdiction, she argued.

"We recognize this is a community problem," Dowd said. "MSU has to own our part of the problem."

Derek Wehrwein is the Reporter editor in chief