Lawrence landlord Serina Hearn will say this about Kansas University students: They can do math.
At least when it comes to figuring out how to split up a fine for violating the city's noise ordinance or disorderly house regulations, Hearn has found several of her tenants have become rather astute arithmetically.
"They just sit there and do the math," said Hearn, who owns or manages about 25 properties near KU. "They've figured out that if you have a party of 300 people, you just collect five bucks from everybody, and that will cover your fines. It is just the price of admission."
Hearn even has started issuing her own fines to students. Many of her leases contain a clause that allows her to fine a tenant $200 each time a police officer responds to a complaint at one of her homes. One house racked up $2,800 in fines from Hearn in a one-year period.
"They just paid it," said Tony Backus, Hearn's husband and real estate partner. "They said it was a good party. It's not about the money for a lot of these kids."
Hearn is convinced that someone with a heavier hammer - the university - needs to enter the equation. KU says it's not a parent, but other universities have started experimenting with discipline for off-campus problems.
Not a parent
At other universities, campus administrators receive weekly reports on university students who are issued citations off campus. Penalties imposed by the university include letters to parents, suspensions or expulsions for repeat offenders.
"There has to be a consequence beyond just the financial," said Hearn, who is lobbying KU and City Hall to adopt similar measures. "It has to be something like, 'Oh, I'm not going to graduate on time.' That will get their attention."
But KU officials acknowledge that hasn't been their philosophy.
"We certainly try to teach students to be good students and be a part of the community, but we're not the enforcement agency. That hasn't been our role," said Todd Cohen, a spokesman for the university.
Cohen said a change in philosophy was "intriguing," but it would need to happen after an extensive discussion by university leaders and students.
"I think there is a legitimate question about how much of a parent the university should be," Cohen said.
Carrots and sticks
Gail Shampnois, director of the office of student and community relations at the University of Vermont, said many universities were abandoning the 1960s type of philosophies that essentially let students live and learn when it comes to off-campus troubles.
"That really is not good for the students or the neighbors," Shampnois said.
About 10 years ago, administrators at the 10,000-student university began to notice they had a sour relationship with city leaders in Burlington, Vt. - a souring that culminated with a downtown incident in which students set trash binsablaze.
Today, the university is recognized for having some of the more innovative programs to foster positive relations between students and residents.
The university formed a community coalition that meets monthly and includes representatives from the city, neighborhoods, students and campus administrators. An outgrowth of that effort has been a program that appoints a student who lives in a neighborhood to serve as an official liaison between students and other neighborhood residents. The university also offers a small grant program to support students who work on neighborhood projects, such as tree planting or cleanup.
"We try to get students to drop the attitude that this is just a place I'm going to live for a year," Shampnois said. "We try to encourage them to be involved in the neighborhood."
But university officials do have disciplinary means at their disposal if problems occur. The process starts with a stern letter and can culminate in expulsion.
Two strikes, you're out
The University of Colorado is considered to have one of the tougher policies in the country.
Robert Maust, chairman of the university's Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, said city police officers noted on every ticket they issued whether the violator was a university student. The university receives that information each week. Students who receive citations for violating any alcohol-related law are put into the university's disciplinary system.
After the first citation, students are mandated to participate in a six-hour education class. If the student receives a second citation in a one-year period, the school policy calls for the student to be suspended for one semester.
Maust said the university suspended about 125 students in 2005. He said students feared the suspensions, in part because tuition and other fees are not refundable. That means some students lose $5,000 to $15,000 because of a suspension.
"The city police tell us over and over again that when students get stopped, they plead with the officers to not tell the university," Maust said. "They'll pay any fine, but they don't want the university to know. Our process is quicker, and the consequences are more serious."
Hearn's advocacy of such programs is attracting some support at City Hall.
"I believe that town and gown working together can be more effective in dealing with some of these drinking and party issues than us trying to do it on our own," City Commissioner David Schauner said. "What I hear from people who live in the area around the university is that our system could work a lot better."