A proposed policy at Kansas University would allow student housing supervisors to enter students’ rooms without a search warrant if they had probable cause to believe alcohol was being consumed inside.
KU officials have re-evaluated several of their policies following the deaths of two students last semester in which drinking played a part. Some policy changes, including one outlining a process of parental notification of alcohol violations, were announced in May.
A proposed policy change would make it so supervisors could open and enter student rooms with a key if they had probable cause to believe that a violation of housing policy was occurring, said Marlesa Roney, KU vice provost for student success.
Resident assistants would knock, identify themselves and, if not allowed in, would go get a senior housing staff member, who would then knock again and identify themselves. If still not allowed in, then the staff would be allowed to use their keys to enter the room.
The policy now allows resident assistants to enter rooms only if the students allow them in. If students do not permit it or don’t respond, resident assistants must obtain a search warrant to enter.
Many times, students will open the door if a resident assistant knocks and identifies himself, but some know they don’t have to, and won’t, Roney said, and a search warrant can take more than 24 hours to obtain.
By that time, the violation usually is no longer occurring, she said.
“What it essentially does is create a situation where our staff members are unable to uphold university policy,” she said.
Things that would cause an employee to enter a room could be anything from a detected odor of marijuana, a suspicion that alcohol was being consumed inside the room or other nondrug or nonalcohol-related offenses, Roney said.
For example, Roney said it’s usually easy to tell whether several specific drinking games are being played by listening at the door.
“And it’s pretty obvious it’s not Diet Coke” that’s being consumed, she said.
Roney said similar policies to the proposed changes are common at universities across the country.
The proposal is subject to review by student governance, Roney said, but it has been met with approval by students on a student housing advisory board. The changes could be in place by as early as mid- to late September, she said.
Mason Heilman, student body president, said he was focused on ensuring that policy changes — which would require amendments to the student code — were heard by the appropriate student review boards before they went into place. He said he had not had time to form an opinion on the policy itself.
He said he had some concerns about the policy, including that it would be reactionary rather than preventive, and may simply force some drinking off-campus.
Garrett Kelly, a Tonganoxie senior living in Pearson Scholarship Hall, said he felt that, while the events of the previous semester were tragic, such a drastic change in the housing policy wasn’t warranted.
“The sad fact is that drinking does sometimes occur,” in student housing, Kelly said. “I feel like the trade-off with privacy isn’t worth it.”
Roney said she understood the privacy concerns. Current student code allows students the same privacy rights as an adult living in an apartment in Lawrence, something that would have to be changed for the new regulations to go into place, she said.
She said that student input would be important on the privacy point. There would be no searches of rooms, she said. Student housing employees would restrict themselves to openly visible violations, under the proposal.
“Honestly, in my mind, it is not a huge intrusion in privacy,” Roney said.
The changes had been discussed previously, but were sped up after the two student deaths last semester, Roney said, adding that communitywide discussion continues on what can be done at KU to curb toxic drinking.