Archive for Saturday, April 11, 2009

Worth a look

Some changes in university policies on parental notification are at least worth discussing.

April 11, 2009


Kansas University officials deserve credit for trying to address two difficult issues related to the recent death of a 19-year-old student.

Jason Wren, a KU freshman, was found dead in his fraternity house last month after a night of heavy drinking. His parents have confirmed that his death was alcohol-related and have criticized the university for not communicating with them about their son’s drinking problems, which led to his dismissal from a KU residence hall after the fall semester.

These are two difficult problems. What can parents, friends, a university or society as a whole do to try to reduce dangerous alcohol consumption by young adults? Lowering the drinking age hasn’t helped. Raising it would be an interesting, but perhaps dangerous, experiment. It’s illegal to sell alcohol to people under 21, but alcoholic beverages obviously are readily available to people in that age group. Some parents even condone alcohol consumption in their own homes on the theory that at least the teens will be supervised there.

The role of universities in supplying parent-like supervision of students’ alcohol consumption and most other aspects of their lives has changed significantly in the last several decades. To respect students’ status as adults able to handle their own affairs, universities largely have dropped their parental role. Closing hours are a thing of the past. Students used to be banned from even having a car on campus when they were freshmen. Such a restriction would be unthinkable now.

Unfortunately, as a result, when something happens that parents should know about, they may remain in the dark because of university policies against releasing information to parents. It’s difficult for a university to know where to draw those lines of communication.

Universities can’t monitor students on a day-to-day basis and have legal restrictions on providing information, but they have the option to communicate with parents concerning the health and safety of their children without the student’s written consent. For instance, dismissal of a student from a residence hall for alcohol violations might warrant direct communication with parents rather than letting students put their own spin on the reason for the action. Even parents who generally have great communication with their children aren’t always going to get the real story about a bad situation.

There are no easy answers, but it’s good that Wren’s death has raised the questions. Irresponsible consumption of alcohol by young people isn’t something universities alone can solve, but perhaps new lines of communication can be drawn to allow parents to get involved and avoid similar tragedies in the future. It’s at least worth a look.


davidsmom 9 years, 2 months ago

I'm not aware that it's just university policy not to release student information to parents; I believe it is federal law. And the idea that college students are all adults is ludicrous. Anybody who has parented or worked with 19-year-olds and early 20-somethings knows they are not fully adults. Even medical literature seems to indicate this as fact. There is a reason why "young adults" have the highest auto insurance rates - because they make stupid decisions and take stupid risks that they don't make once they are a little bit older. As for getting a handle on underage drinking, it will never happen. As long as society as a whole condones drinking, and especially if it is considered something for adults, teens and young 20-somethings will want to do it. Why are there fewer kids smoking now than there were 30 years ago? Not because of law enforcement but because society as a whole looks on it less favorably.

Strontius 9 years, 2 months ago

Davidsmom, do you really think that fewer kids are smoking today because society looks at it less favorably? I work in a KU residence hall, and plenty of those kids smoke. In fact, the number seems to have increased somewhat since I was in college. You can't go anywhere on KU's campus without seeing quite a few people smoke. And I'm sure there are many, many places in the U.S. where people continue to smoke quite a bit.

People under 25 have higher insurance rates because they are less experienced, not because they make stupid decisions. Surely it doesn't take much driving to know that stupidity behind the wheel knows no age or gender. I see plenty of older adults making stupid driving decisions.

As for the Editorial, it's not the University's job to play babysitter to legal adults. If they're too stupid to be responsible for themselves, then bad stuff happens. This is an opportunity for encouraging personal responsibility to avoid such extremely rare occurrences (is one alcohol related death at KU in how many years warrant this much attention?), not looking to place blame on a public institution. If I knew my underage child drank, as Wren's father did from his own comments about Jason Wren drinking in high school, I would not have sent him to a fraternity.

Nature can only allow so much stupidity before the gene pool gets trimmed.

Strontius 9 years, 2 months ago

Got to love the generalizations. Does it make people feel better about their own irresponsible behavior to claim that ALL people did the same thing?

begin60 9 years, 2 months ago

When a student has violated minor-in-possession liquor laws to the point of losing his dormitory housing alcohol abuse has likely become a serious enough health issue to be considered among those behaviors constituting a danger to self and others. A red flag should normally raise among responsible people in charge. Moreover, interpreting alchol abuse as a health issue makes a strong case for contacting the student's emergency contacts.

In general, KU is very alert to privacy concerns and should be commended on this. A laissez policy of non-intervention and individual free choice will usually be less likely to wreak harm than heavy-handed interference and the more punitive disciplinary policies often followed by authoritarian schools like Missouri and Nebraska.

If only the Lawrence community like the KU administration had more respect and understanding for the privacy and boundaries of others. Discrimination means treating others differently on the basis of legally protected characteristics.To many unaware residents of Lawrence this instead comprises their unsophisticated idea of "helping". It's extremely unpolitically correct and threatening to invade the personal boundaries of strangers in public on the basis of uneducated, bigoted assumptions. Unless someone is truly in an emergency situation you should not illegally profile them and treat them as second-class citizens based on bigoted, sexist or ableist attitudes. Trust me, they are quite capable to carry their own bags, climb the bus steps and safely traverse the street. Rude meddling on these grounds shows an ignorant lack of respect for the true talents, character and independence of others. Please do not interfere with the equal rights of others and dismiss their real qualifications and merit. You are making your problems theirs simply by at their expense clinging to outmoded, self-serving ignorance and prejudice.

fletch 9 years, 2 months ago

Having worked with KU students and parents in the past, I just want to re-iterate that the system in place works for 99% of families out there. Plenty of students sign the parental notification form that is given to them when they first come to KU. Students and parents that participate in admissions, orientation, and housing programs for new students are overwhelming made aware of the form they need to sign, and manage to do so.

When I worked dealing with parents and would receive complaints about us not releasing info to parents, I'd ask them whether their student signed the consent form. Overwhelming, those parents wouldn't even know what I was talking about. When pressed further, most of them never attended orientation with their student, or reviewed the student's paperwork and information when they returned from orientation.

Parents: You want to know what's happening in your student's life? Ask. If they don't tell you, ask again. This is the outside world now, and you have to show up to count. You've got to take an interest in these things, and you cant take no for an answer. High school was a closed environment for you and your family. You child was a minor, and the schools were set up with you as the point of contact. Those rules are flipped now that they're in the real world. They're a legal adult, and their own point of contact. The only way you're going to get information out of them is to ask for it or teach your student to hopefully just want to volunteer the information directly. I know it's scary. I know it's different, but that's how it is. When your kid graduated and gets a job, their employer isn't going to call you to tell you they showed up late, or is performing badly. College is that transition time to get both of you used to the new rules. Learning to communicate in that way is hard. I'm not dismissing that. But you've got to do it if you don't want to end up being one of these tragic cases.

Leslie Swearingen 9 years, 2 months ago

Exactly what KU personnel are supposed to be monitoring the behavior of thousands of KU students 24/7 and then e-mailing the parents about it? Perhaps everyone could sign up on Twitter. Then you could get on time reports like, your child just jaywalked going from this class to this class. Your child just dropped a candy wrapper on the sidewalk. OMG I just saw your child smoking! Then what is supposed to happen? Is the watcher supposed to walk over and yank the cigarette out of their mouth and give them a lecture?

begin60 9 years, 2 months ago

Think how the Wren family must feel right now to meet the heartbreaking loss of their beloved son, Jason. A productive life has been cut sort, and a precious future contributing citizen has been lost to Littleton, CO and Lawrence, KS. We are not merely discussing the relative merits of helicopter parenting here; we are weighing matters of life and death. It seems that a laissez faire, hands-off privacy policy may have shortcomings when students behave in ways, such as in seriously abusing alcohol, that make them a danger to self and others. When blatant health and safety matters figure large in a student's case university administrators have a large chance of holding information about this, and if KU's take on FERPA and other privacy policies allowed it they probably would do well to notify someone who personally knows and cares about a given at-risk student. It's insensitive to shrug off lost student lives or to compare the issues involved here to jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk. If I correctly remember, privacy issues at Virginia Tech also prevented concerned parties from taking effective action before that ungodly massacre. Ignorance and bigotry must pervade more places than only Lawrence,KS I guess.

mom_of_three 9 years, 2 months ago

Even though it may be "insensitive," Irish does have a point. KU can't monitor every underage kid that drinks, but should KU be responsible for those who get kicked out of the dorms for rules infractions? Perhaps they do for those who sign the parent release.
What about those 19 year old kids who are not in college? Let's say they have a job and an apartment, and live with two other people, and they happen to drink. Roommates hate it and the 19 year old get kicked out, or the manager kicks them out because of it (for whatever reason). Whose responsibility is it to tell their parents about their habit? Their room mates, their landlord, their employer? No. Why do we want to treat 19 year olds differently because they are at school?

Bob Burton 9 years, 2 months ago

As a parent if I am paying the bills, then I get the info, age is not a factor, period!! No info, no money, get a job!! If my child pays the bills, then he/she can get the info..

Leslie Swearingen 9 years, 2 months ago

I don't understand why I would be perceived as insensitive. It just sounds so overwhelming to me. At eighteen parents are no long legally responsible for their children. I would think KU would have to have an office working full time on this issue and doing all of the paperwork and reporting. Are we somehow thinking that college students should be more innocent and sheltered than their working counterparts. I stand by my posting, I think it is just fine.

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