Those who use drugs lose right to Ivory Tower


April 26, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

When Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder recently said he would "not object at all" to the random drug testing of college students, he was accused of being the worst thing you can accuse a person of being: a presidential candidate.

Yep, the idea of testing college kids for illegal drug use is so silly, his critics said, that only a guy running for president could come up with it.

Even Bob Martinez, the nation's drug czar, came out against it. Though Martinez supported widespread drug testing of state workers when he was governor of Florida, he now opposes the same tests for college students.

Why? Well, because drug testing should be used "as a means of identifying problems." And we don't need it in the case of college kids, he said, because we already know about the problem.

Got that?

In fact, we know that drug use among college kids is higher than that of the general population, with one in three college kids admitting to having used an illegal drug at least once in the last year.

And that, really, is why we can't test them: If we did, we'd catch too many of them.

And what would we do then? Jail them? Send them to drug treatment programs? Kick them out of school?

Are we going to do that to the "finest flower" of our nation's youth? No way.

We are used to seeing pictures on the 11 p.m. news of ghetto kids getting busted for crack and getting dragged off to jail.

But we are not used to seeing pictures of nice middle-class and upper-class kids being dragged off for using drugs. Such pictures would upset too many powerful people.

Wilder formed a task force on college drug use in response to a March 21 drug raid at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville that led to the arrest of 21 students and the seizure of three fraternity houses.

He said at the time: "Cocaine and marijuana use by those who know the privilege of attending public institutions is no less illegal, destructive and immoral than the same activity among those who bear the stigma of living in public housing."

And isn't it kind of silly to be putting up signs around our elementary and high schools that say "Drug Free Zone" and then declare that drug use on college campuses is protected?

Not that everyone agrees that we should impose the same standards of conduct on college kids that we impose on non-college kids.

Professor Donald Gehring of the University of Louisville wrote in USA Today that Congress' 1989 Drug-Free Schools and Community Act, which demands that colleges enforce rules governing the use, sale and possession of illegal substances, is "well-meaning" but "reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of college-age youth and the institutions they inhabit."

He concludes: "Federal interference won't help colleges solve the problem of campus drug and alcohol use."

This is the familiar theory of college as Ivory Tower or safe haven, free from the "interference" of society.

And, in medieval times, colleges were safe havens. They were sanctuaries for learning, where those inside were protected from the brutishness of life outside.

Even into the modern era, colleges have been looked upon as safe havens for those who wished to learn or teach unpopular doctrines.

None of which has anything to do with drug use, however.

I understand the need to protect a university professor from the ire of the community if that professor wishes to give lectures on unpopular subjects.

But I don't see the need to protect a 19-year-old who is snorting cocaine in his dorm room. I think the two kinds of safe haven are fundamentally different.

Besides, college kids are privileged enough. If you go into the military, you get tested for drugs. If you go into college, you don't.


There is no doubt that colleges are great places. Aside from imparting a little knowledge, they are enormous fun. At least I had enormous fun. You are away from home, you are surrounded by people your own age, and your responsibilities are limited to keeping your grade point average above the flunk-out point.

But aside from providing knowledge and good times, do colleges also need to provide students with an arrest-free arena in which to do dope?

I can see only one good argument against the testing of college students: Right now, drug testing has been largely limited to people in essential jobs: airline crews, railroad crews, nuclear power plant operators, school bus drivers, etc.

And, when you think about it, college kids are not really essential to anything.

But they will grow up someday. And they will learn that in the big bad world outside of college, there is something called the law. And nobody, not even a college student, is above it.

And maybe if we taught them that lesson while they were still in college, we would be doing them a favor.

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