Kansas University is in a tough spot when it comes to dealing with illegal drug and alcohol use by students in university residence halls.
As illustrated by two fatal incidents in recent months, the university often is blamed for not doing enough to restrict students’ use of intoxicating substances. Yet, when the school considers a policy that would help them step up enforcement of university rules concerning drugs and alcohol in residence halls, it attracts criticism for infringing on students’ right to privacy.
It’s a difficult line to draw, but a new policy that would give residence hall officials the right to enter a student room if they have good reason to suspect university drug and alcohol rules are being broken doesn’t seem out of line. Currently, residence hall officials cannot enter a room uninvited without obtaining a search warrant, which can take more than 24 hours, plenty of time to get rid of any evidence of a violation. The proposed policy would give students two chances to open their doors voluntarily at the request of a resident assistant and then a senior house staff member. If they refuse, the senior staff member could use a pass key to enter the room.
Some hall residents would argue they should have the same privacy rights as if they lived in an apartment, but by signing contracts in which they agree to abide by residence hall rules, students have given up some of those rights.
Over the years, the university has removed most of its parent-like restrictions on residence hall living either explicitly or through lax enforcement. But when student deaths are linked to behavior that is banned in KU residence halls, the university leaves itself open not only to criticism but potential legal action.
It’s true that university officials can’t follow students everywhere. It’s possible that more vigorous enforcement of drug and alcohol policies will drive more students to other locations to partake of illegal substances. Some students, however, might actually appreciate having the rules they agreed to abide by enforced.
This is not a cure-all. If this policy is approved, residence hall officials probably will put it to use only in the most blatant violations of hall policies. However, if the university is going to be blamed for not detecting and punishing drug and alcohol abuse, officials need to have a reasonable opportunity to catch students in the act and take the appropriate steps, including notifying their parents. The proposed policy would simply give them a way to do that.