University investigates legality of parental-notification alcohol policy

Sam Kean
Staff Reporter
For most students, living in a residence hall represents freedom from life with their parents.
But in an effort to control drug and alcohol levels on campus, the University is exploring a parental-notification plan for students between the ages of 18 and 21 who violate alcohol or illegal-drug policies.
Until a few years ago, universities needed a student’s signature to release any information to parents unless the student’s life was clearly threatened.
But a 1998 amendment to the federal Family Education Right to Privacy Act gave educational institutions the option to contact parents for violations. To adopt this policy, the University Board of Regents would need to approve it.
But proceedings are on hold while University lawyers investigate the legality of the policy.
Associate Vice Provost for Student Development Jane Canney said the primary supporters of the new policy are parents.
She added University of Minnesota-Crookston administrators have supported it on the grounds that parents are an important part of addressing issues in a student’s life and should be considered in the effort to reduce consumption by minors.
Others disagree.
The University Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Task Committee recommended the University not adopt the policy last fall. In the past, both the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Minnesota Student Association have voiced opposition.
Boynton Health Director and committee chair Edward Ehlinger cited a number of reasons to not adopt the policy.
The University cannot treat 18-year-olds, who are legal adults, as minors only in alcohol and drug-related situations, he said.
He also cited the difficulty of knowing where to draw the line, and added family communication prior to attending the University is the key to reducing alcohol and drug consumption.
Currently, students who violate the campus alcohol policy receive discipline ranging from warnings to expulsion from the residence halls, depending on the severity of the transgression.
All violators must also attend a workshop focusing on responsible decision-making. Assistant Director of Housing and Residential Life Lisa Schulte said she believes the workshop is effective in changing student behavior in “99.9 percent of all cases.”
Canney said she doubts the new policy will be adopted. “Legally, it’s unclear if we have that as an option.”
The University of Iowa, Penn State University and Indiana University all recently adopted parental-notification policies. Canney said the University will be monitoring the effectiveness of these three programs, and officials will consider the results before making final decisions.
Most schools that have adopted a related policy have had problems with alcohol or drug-related deaths, Canney said.
University of Wisconsin officials chose not to adopt the policy after taking the same steps the University is taking now.

Sam Kean welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.