Wilder floats college drug-testing plan

April 04, 1991|By New York Times News Service

Saying he wants his state to be a model for the rest of the country, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia has established a group to study ways to fight campus crime, including the possibility of mandatory testing of college students for drug use.

No state currently requires its colleges and universities to test students for drugs, according to education specialists. Legal experts question whether mandatory testing by state institutions would be constitutional, noting that even some programs set up by private institutions have been thrown out by courts.

Mr. Wilder, a Democrat who has said he may run for president in 1992, often stakes out provocatively conservative positions on national issues. In this instance, he did not actually come out in support of student testing in announcing formation of the study group Tuesday, 12 days after a much-publicized drug raid at the University of Virginia, but he said the group should consider the possibility.

Moreover, he said he would not object if the group took the unusual step of recommending tests for college students on a statewide, mandatory basis, as long as "you're not running afoul of constitutional guarantees against self-incrimination."

"Virginia can provide a model for the rest of the nation," Mr. Wilder said in announcing formation of the study group, which is to include educators, students and law officers and is to be headed by the state secretary of education, James W. Dyke Jr., and its secretary of public safety, Robert L. Suthard.

"The task force," the governor added, "will send a clear and emphatic message: Virginia is serious about ensuring that its campuses are safe and conducive to learning. Virginia colleges and universities cannot be sanctuaries of immunity for a privileged class of young adults."

The Virginia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union immediately questioned the constitutionality of mandatory testing and urged the study group not to move in that direction.

"State government ought not to be in the business of policing the private behavior of public college students," said Stephen B. Pershing, the affiliate's legal director.

"It's hard to imagine how any state-ordered testing could be constitutional. There are campus drug problems, as they found at the University of Virginia. But as Thomas Jefferson, the founder of that university, said: 'When angry, count to 10before speaking. When very angry, count to a hundred.' "

Bob Martinez, President Bush's new director of national drug control policy, said that while testing had a "proven role" in anti-drug efforts, there were "any number of things" that colleges and universities could do to halt campus drug use before testing.

According to the American Council on Education, a Washington-based organization that represents colleges and universities, no state has mandated its public schools to test students for drugs. Council officials say some private institutions have ordered testing, along with a few individual public institutions.

"But when they've been taken to court, they often haven't fared well," said David Merkowitz, the council's public affairs director.

Law enforcement officials say drug and crime problems on Virginia campuses are typical of problems found in many states. In the March 21 drug raid at the University of Virginia, 12 students were arrested on charges of selling marijuana, LSD and hallucinogens to undercover agents.

Mr. Wilder's action came after his seeming embarrassment over the attention focused on the state and its leading academic institution.

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