I have read the petition denouncing the recent changes to College alcohol and housing policies. I share the disappointment and frustration expressed by many at the erosion of the social environment. However, the petitioners and the administration have very different views on what is causing that erosion.
Many petitioners see these increased sanctions as a money grab. But if increasing revenues was the goal, Ramapo would have increased tuition and fees this year. In fact, we were the only New Jersey public college not to do so.
Increased sanctions, including fines, appear to be one of the few ways of impressing on the student body the significance of the problem. Nearly every week, intoxicated students are transported to local hospitals with blood alcohol levels more than two or three times the legal limit. Parties are regularly held at the Village with over 100 attendees and copious amounts of alcohol.
This cannot continue. Something has to give and we are running out of options.
An important part of my responsibility as president is discerning what is in the best interests of our students and the College. For example, as I write this, on Groundhog Day morning, I am listening to the freezing rain fall. Four hours earlier, at 4:45 a.m., after conferring with Public Safety, I cancelled classes. This will cause inconvenience and some will feel that I should be less cautious. On any given day, they may be right but I try to err on the side of safety.
College alcohol and residence policy decisions are no different. The paramount concern is safety and the potential liability of the College if that safety is not adequately protected. It is my job to see that risks are managed and I am called to answer if the College fails to do so. If one of the seriously intoxicated students who is routinely transported to hospital instead plunges down a stairwell and is rendered a quadriplegic, or passes out between buildings late at night and freezes to death, or asphyxiates on their own vomit in a residence room, what answer will I have when their friends and loved ones ask “Why?”
I would very much prefer that the student body work with the administration in finding solutions and I have recently emphasized this point in meetings with the SGA President and the Student Trustee. They have accepted my invitation to meet more often.
There have been other recent attempts at consultation by my office that have been discouraging. On December 19, Acting Dean of Students Melissa VanDerWall and I attended a community standards meeting with Inter-fraternity council groups. Our discussion included the need to avoid gatherings that seriously violate college policies. It is a documented fact that fraternities and sports teams are frequently the sponsors and organizers of these parties. I left the meeting feeling optimistic.
On January 23, less than five weeks later, Public Safety responded to a noise complaint from the village to find 120 people in a suite, many of whom were intoxicated and confrontational. The party hosts were the president and vice-president of a fraternity.
I regularly hear from students who file complaints with Public Safety because late night party noise is preventing them from studying or sleeping. I am told that they tend to keep a low profile because they feel vulnerable to scorn and ridicule.
We need to find ways of addressing these issues respectfully and productively.