President Clinton is poised to sign into law a bill that could affect millions of college students across the country. The legislation, an amendment to the Higher Education Reauthorization Act, would allow – but not require – colleges to inform parents if their children violate university alcohol and drug policies or local laws.
GW has not decided whether it will notify parents of student’s drug and alcohol violations and if it does, whether it will do so on a case-by-case basis or in every alcohol-related case it comes across.
Given the unprecedented number of underage students who have had dangerous run-ins with alcohol this semester, the legislation should be signed into law and GW should implement it. But the University must determine what sort of violations would merit parental notification. A student who is in a room where underage students are drinking but is not drinking himself should not face the same penalty as a student who has her stomach pumped in the emergency room.
If GW decides to go forward with a parental notification policy, a task force of students and University staff should be charged with developing guidelines for the notification policy. These guidelines should state specifically what offenses merit a call to parents.
Critics of the legislation argue it is a violation of students’ privacy. They say an 18-year-old student is an adult and able to make decisions and face the consequences. But they miss a critical point: No one has the right to knowingly violate the law. The good of the amendment outweighs the bad if the University can devise acceptable guidelines to inform parents.
Underage drinking always will be a problem on college campuses. At GW, it seems that a week doesn’t pass without rumors of more alcohol-related hospitalizations and arrests. Parental notification that follows specific and publicized guidelines is a positive step toward preventing accidents or potential tragedies. Perhaps this legislation will make some students think twice before they drink irresponsibly.