Officials consider parental-notification policy

by Liz Bogut

This summer, University officials could begin sending letters to parents when their underage student violates alcohol and drug policies.
The University would be among at least three other Big Ten schools to adopt a policy allowing administrators to notify parents when a student under 21 violates a policy.
“The misuse and use of alcohol among college students is a national health problem,” said McKinley Boston, vice president of student development.
Boston made the remark during a presentation about the proposed notification policy by the University Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Task Force during a regents meetings Thursday. A decision on the policy is expected before June.
Although the task force has already made an informal recommendation not to adopt the policy, the final recommendation is still undecided, said Jane Canney, associate vice president for student development.
The proposed policy has caused questions about the privacy rights of University students and whether the measure would undermine students’ efforts to become independent adults.
“We need to think about what kind of relationship the University wants with its students,” said Piyali Nath Dalal, student representative for the Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee. “A lot of students are paying their own way through school and are very independent of their parents.”
The policy was voted down in the past two months by both the Minnesota Student Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.
The current notification policy allows administrators to contact parents of underage students only when the violation jeopardizes a minor’s health or safety or involves a life-threatening situation.
Following several alcohol-related deaths on college campuses across the nation, some parents of students pushed for amendments to the federal Family Education Right to Privacy Act, which allowed colleges to contact parents of minors who have violated drug or alcohol policies.
In August 1999, amendments were passed by Congress allowing state colleges and universities the option to inform parents of the alcohol and drug-related violations of minors.
Since the amendments were passed, University students, faculty and staff members have extensively discussed the possibility of a new policy.
St. Cloud State University, in St. Cloud, Minn., is also considering adopting the policy.
“We are looking into it. Right now we are trying to study other schools that have already implemented the policy,” said Marsha Shoemaker, communications manager for the university.
The University of Iowa, Indiana University and Penn State have already adopted the policy.
University Regent H. Bryan Neel III said the University should use its resources and be leaders concerning the adoption of the policy.
“To know that there are people at the University who are concerned about students’ health and well-being will be a drawing force for parents,” Neel said. “Parental confidence is a splendid recruitment tool for the University.”
The University formed its alcohol and drug task force five years ago. The 25-member committee is comprised of students, faculty and staff members, including representatives from each of the University campuses.
In 1997, Boston and Canney charged the task force with looking at campuswide information related to alcohol and drug use.
Last year, the task force began to look at family education and privacy issues in an effort to prepare a recommendation concerning a parental-notification policy.
“About 70 percent of University students have used alcohol in the past year,” said Edward Ehlinger, chairman of the task force. “It’s a big problem but not a growing one. Most of our students make responsible choices.”
Liz Bogut covers faculty and welcomes comments at [email protected]. She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.