[Paleopsych] Reason: Welcome to the Fun-Free University: The return of in loco parentis is killing student freedom.

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Welcome to the Fun-Free University: The return of in loco
parentis is killing student freedom. 
October 2004
[The Strauss-Howe theory of the coming civic generation is moving right 

    David Weigel

    In April 1968, student activists at Columbia University schemed to
    take over the deans office as a protest against the Vietnam War and
    plans to build a new gym. More than 700 students were arrested, and
    the uprising won national attention. But the schools buttoned-up
    administrators hadnt wanted to involve the police, and the rioters
    eventually were allowed to graduate. The mayor of New York, John
    Lindsay, even arrived in December to address the students and applaud
    "the urgent, authentically revolutionary work of this generation."

    How much of that revolution has carried over to the Columbia of 2004?
    Registered students who occupy a building would get a dialogue with
    administrators, but the school wouldnt shy from expulsion. According
    to Ricardo Morales, the schools crime prevention specialist since
    1983, nonstudent radicals wouldnt make it into the campus buildings.
    "If you want to bring a friend over," Morales explains, "you bring him
    to the lobby and swipe your ID cards. The guest leaves a piece of ID.
    If he wants to stay for a few days, you can apply for a guest pass."

    Even when theyre not keeping their borders sealed so tight, college
    administrators have been adopting harsh measures in response to
    unapproved student behavior. Last fall, students at Southern Methodist
    University saw their "affirmative action bake sale," a bit of
    political theater in which prices were determined by the races of
    buyers, shut down by the student center. They had failed to register
    with the university as a "protest" or to go to the officially
    designated "protest zone," on the south stairs outside of the
    Hughes-Trigg Student Center.

    Many college administrators throughout the country are taking great
    pains to keep their students under tight control. Yet in the late
    1960s and 70s, whether colleges could rein in students was an open
    question. Previously, Americas universities had operated under the
    doctrine of in loco parentis ("in the place of a parent"). By the
    start of the 70s, thanks to a series of legal rulings and cultural
    shifts, courts and colleges were tossing out that policy, and
    universities that had been dealing with students as wards struggled to
    find a new approach.

    That didnt last. In loco parentis has been rejuvenated and returned.
    Administrators have tapped into the devaluation of personal
    responsibility illustrated by smoking bans and fast food lawsuits,
    coupling it with bullish political correctness. The resulting dearth
    of individual liberties on campuses would have seemed impossible to
    college students of 25 years ago.

    Double Secret Probation

    The rights of schools over their pupils were codified before the U.S.
    Constitution was written. In 1765 the legal scholar Sir William
    Blackstone wrote that, when sending kids to school, Dad "may also
    delegate part of his parental authority, during his life to the tutor
    or schoolmaster of the child; who is then in loco parentis, and has
    such a portion of the power of the parents committed to his charge."

    Blackstone was writing about grammar school students, but 19th-century
    college administrators liked the idea too. Wheaton College, five years
    after its 1861 founding, denied students the right to form a secret
    society. The students sued, but judges washed their hands of the
    matter. In Pratt v. Wheaton College (1866), the Illinois courts said
    judges have "no more authority to interfere than [they] have to
    control the domestic discipline of a father in his family."

    Courts took this hands-off approach well into the next century. When
    public or private universities bought land, the state treated them
    like personal fiefdoms. Students got whatever rights their school
    administrators saw fit to give. At Harvard in 1951, the Administrative
    Board could tell reporters that it would increase the punishment for a
    window smashing -- by however much it wanted -- "if a students name is
    on the police blotter or in the Boston press." That was the power of
    in loco parentis.

    Not until 1960 did this system begin to break down. That year, six
    students at the all-black Alabama State College participated in
    anti-segregation lunch counter sit-ins. The schools president sent
    them letters expelling them for "conduct prejudicial to the school."
    According to Stetson Law School professor Robert Bickel, the students
    case cut to the root of in loco parentis: "The university actually
    asserted the right to arbitrarily give some students [due] process and
    deny it to others." When the students sued, federal courts sided with
    Alabama State. But in the 1961 decision Dixon v. Alabama State Board
    of Education, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit rejected
    the schools claim of omnipotence. Suddenly, college enrollment was a
    contract between the student and the school. Since kids didnt lose
    their constitutional rights in their backyard, they couldnt lose them
    on campus. State universities slackened their grip, and private
    universities such as Columbia followed suit.

    During the next few years, in loco parentis continued to collapse as
    courts chipped away at it. In 1974 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in
    Scheuer v. Rhodes that Kent State students had the right to sue the
    governor of Ohio for damages incurred during the notorious 1970
    shooting there. Chief Justice Warren Burger concluded the brief
    decision this way: "We intimate no evaluation whatever as to the
    merits of the petitioners claims or as to whether it will be possible
    to support them by proof. We hold only that, on the allegations of
    their respective complaints, they were entitled to have them
    judicially resolved." Students had been handed the keys to their

    By then, campus revolts were making national headlines, radical groups
    had been profiled in Life and Esquire, and undergrads were helping
    manage George McGoverns presidential campaign. By 1978, when Dean
    Wormer in Animal House threatened his students with "double secret
    probation," audiences recognized it as a knowing goof on a
    dead-and-buried policy. As Stetsons Bickel puts it, "The fall of in
    loco parentis in the 1960s correlated exactly with the rise of student
    economic power and the rise of student civil rights."

    Save the Children

    In 1969 Sheldon Steinbach arrived at the American Council on
    Education, the catchall coordinating body for universities, just in
    time to weather the worst of the campus revolts. Elite schools such as
    Berkeley, Columbia, and Cornell were acquiescing to radical students
    and opening up their internal judicial processes. Students won seats
    on some boards of trustees. Administrators appeared to have lost their

    "The basic liberal arts education began to crumble," Steinbach says.
    "Thats what it looked like. When the war ended, we could consolidate,
    sit back, and look at how to save the system."

    An unexpected boon arrived in 1974, the year of the Kent State
    decision Scheuer v. Rhodes. Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and James
    Buckley (Conservative-N.Y.) sponsored the Family Educational Rights
    and Privacy Act (FERPA) in the hope of empowering parents to keep tabs
    on their kids academics. Committees amended the bill into a
    codification of student privacy rights, and Steinbach got a crack at
    it before FERPA moved on to the Senate. When the bill passed, parents
    could peek into the records of their children until their 18th
    birthday, at which point those rights transferred to the student. But
    FERPA created exceptions: Schools could release records to providers
    of financial aid and to "appropriate officials in cases of health and
    safety emergencies." If a student was hit with a subpoena or legal
    charge, the school could peek into his criminal records. Yet college
    administrators and their advisers, Steinbach included, kept the
    champagne corked. It wasnt immediately clear what effect the law would
    have, outside of giving parents annual notice of their new rights.

    "It was a schizophrenic time," Steinbach explains. "We were moving
    from segregated campuses to co-ed, affirmative action campuses. We
    didnt have our feet on the floor in 1974."

    Meanwhile, concern about the state of campuses was spreading. In March
    1977, Newsweek ran a hand-wringing exposé titled "The End of
    Expulsion?," which gave the supposed academic apocalypse some context:
    "In just ten years, most of the rules that once governed student life
    in loco parentis have simply disappeared. Even serious scholastic
    offenses, such as cheating and plagiarism, seldom incur the harsh
    penalties that were once automatic. Most college administrators admit
    that they lean over backward to avoid expelling students." The irksome
    rites of passage that had been mandatory -- core curricula,
    single-gender dorms, class attendance -- fell away.

    In the 1979 case Bradshaw v. Rawlings, the U.S. Court of Appeals for
    the 3rd Circuit spelled out the universities weakness. When a Delaware
    Valley College sophomore three years under the Pennsylvania drinking
    age hitched a ride from a drunk driver and was injured in a car crash,
    he sued the school. The court shrugged him off. "The modern American
    college is not an insurer of the safety of its students," it said.
    "Rights formerly possessed by college administrations have been
    transferred to students." Expectations were pointless, because "beer
    drinking by college students is a common experience. That this is true
    is not to suggest that reality always comports with state law and
    college rules. It does not."

    The courts decision reflected the way students lived: They had a new
    relationship with their deans, who should treat them like the young
    adults they were.

    How then, did the contemporary nanny university arise? Administrators
    who got their degrees in the 1960s had a certain idea of how students
    should be governed, and they found three tools for regaining control.
    The first involved intoxicants, including the escalating war on drugs
    and the mid-80s change in the drinking age from 18 to 21. The second
    was an attempt to stave off liability for student mental health
    problems by intervening with students who were seen at risk of
    breakdowns. The third and most well known was a rigid enforcement of
    political correctness that set standards for just how rowdy students
    could get.

    Just Say No

    University administrators immediately started wringing their hands
    over the "kids will be kids" philosophy of Bradshaw v. Rawlings. When
    one of their wards was arrested, injured, or killed, whether a lawsuit
    resulted or not, the school felt a blow to its prestige and sense of
    community. Unchecked hedonism and recklessness among students
    increasingly free to skip classes or make their own schedules were
    perceived as a threat to the institutions reputation.

    Brett Bokolow, manager of the National Center for Higher Education
    Risk Management (NCHERM), estimates that colleges have been seeking
    formulas to keep students out of actionable situations for 20 years.
    In the 1980s, they were increasingly finding themselves liable for
    providing services or sponsoring events that involved alcohol. After
    only a few legal wounds, schools sought methods to put the
    responsibility for drinking or drug use on the backs of students and
    fraternities and sororities. Two weapons fell into their laps.

    As the Department of Education opened for business in 1980, an
    increasing number of students were turning to government aid and loans
    to pay for their college bills. From 1970 to 1980, federal aid to
    college students soared from $600 million to $4.5 billion. In 1978
    Congress had passed legislation that entitled all college students to
    federally insured loans. Suddenly, colleges had leverage to punish
    students for misusing their leisure time. If they were getting money
    from taxpayers, they were treated like any other employee found
    partying on the job. Since students were making use of their loans
    every minute of the academic year, all of their fun was suspect, and
    much of the adult behavior that vexed administrators was happening on
    the public dime.

    Colleges became willing and able to shift some burden to Greek
    organizations, which had grown again after a marked falloff in the
    Vietnam era. Many schools created incentives for fraternities and
    sororities to go dry, or at least disincentives for them to stay wet.
    In one typical action in 1988, Rutgers University, which had just
    banned bringing kegs into dorms, responded to a students death by
    embargoing all Greek events. In 1997, after first-year student Scott
    Kreuger drank himself to death at a pledge event, MIT banned freshmen
    from fraternities. More responsibility was shifted to fraternity and
    sorority members. By the mid-90s, universities had become so strict
    that they were rarely found liable for student sins. Instead of
    threatening to punish their kids if they came home late, schools
    simply took away the car keys. If kids somehow got themselves into
    trouble, it was a police matter.

    Colleges found the rest of their arsenal in 1987, when Congress
    threatened to withhold federal transportation money from states that
    allowed anyone below the age of 21 to buy alcohol, with the result
    that 21 became the de facto national drinking age (see "Age of
    Propaganda" below). Across the country, the harshness many schools had
    formerly applied only to drug offenses began to apply to drinking as
    well, and the war on fraternities was ramped up. Finally, in 1998
    FERPA was amended to make one provision clearer: Colleges could
    sidestep their students wishes and inform parents whenever a drug or
    alcohol law was broken. Before that, less than 20 percent of schools
    had informed parents of such violations. Afterward, most of them did

    In 2001 The Chronicle of Higher Education reviewed this phone-home
    policy and found great success. Reporters spotlighted the story of a
    University of Delaware freshman who pledged to quit drinking after
    police stopped him on the street for a Breathalyzer test. After he was
    caught, his parents began bringing him home each weekend and lecturing
    him on his mistakes. The student stopped drinking, but not because he
    worried about the effects of booze. If he was caught again, he would
    be suspended for a year.

    For Your Own Good

    Keri Krissik transferred to Stonehill College in Easton,
    Massachusetts, in January 1999, 10 years after she was first diagnosed
    as anorexic. Krissik survived a heart attack four months after
    arriving and finished her course work while convalescing. In September
    the school refused to let her back in because, according to spokesman
    Martin McGovern, "we couldnt monitor her." If she were allowed back in
    and was injured, the school could have been liable. Stonehill dearly
    wanted to avoid the risk.

    Krissik eventually settled with Stonehill, but the courts neglected to
    ask why, after theyd relieved colleges of the need to nanny their
    students, the college wouldnt damn the consequences and let her study.
    The lawsuit provides an answer.

    Just as colleges have calculated the legal risks of letting students
    get away with drinking or recreational drugs, they remain in danger of
    being held responsible when students face mental collapse or attempt
    suicide. If administrators had moved on and handed their wards more
    lifestyle freedom after in loco parentis ended, theyd have room to
    dodge these bullets. But since they had accepted responsibility for
    keeping kids off the bottle, it was easy for lawyers to make them
    responsible for the rest of the pressures of campus life.

    Schools started this battle with a handicap. During the last decade,
    more and more students have been diagnosed as overstressed or treated
    for depression while still in high school. In February 2003, after
    tracking student complaints from 1989 to 2001, researchers at the
    University of Kansas found that the number of students diagnosed with
    depression had doubled while the number of "suicidal" students had
    tripled. The proportion of students taking psychiatric medication rose
    from 10 percent to 25 percent.

    In response to such trends, college administrators started making
    pharmaceuticals and therapy sessions more readily available on campus.
    Elite universities have been able to provide the most buffers against
    mental illness claims. According to the May 2002 issue of Psychology
    Today, 2,000 Harvard students had sought counseling in one year. Fully
    half of them walked away with a prescription for antidepressants.
    Students who lived on campus had access to free massages and an
    ever-expanding mental health center.

    The overarching goal of these programs is not to eliminate stress or
    wean students off medication. Its to stop lawsuits, and the ugliest
    lawsuits of the last decade have concerned students who killed
    themselves while enrolled, even though studies (including one
    conducted by the MIT task force appointed after Scott Kreugers death
    from alcohol poisoning) have shown that most students who commit
    suicide never seek counseling.

    At the University of Illinois, counselors work with residential
    assistants to monitor students who attempt or seriously consider
    suicide. Such students are ordered into four weeks of assessment
    sessions under the universitys watch. Those who refuse get the Keri
    Krissik treatment -- theyre no longer students. The New York Times
    Magazine called Illinois approach "a highly successful, model plan"
    for colleges that want to keep their undergrads under control.

    How to Think

    As the protective mind-set returned, it jibed with administrators
    desires to make their campuses placid in every possible way. Alcohol
    and drug policies had emerged in a national context, justified by laws
    beyond the universitys control, while mental health policies were
    driven largely by the threat of lawsuits. But administrators didnt
    need anyone to force their hands to insert speech standards and "hate
    crime" prohibitions into campus life. In 1987 the University of
    Michigan responded to a handful of anonymous racist fliers with new
    campus regulations aimed at suppressing offensive speech. The speech
    code, the first to end up in court, prohibited "any behavior, verbal
    or physical, that stigmatizes or victimizes an individual on the basis
    of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national
    origin, ancestry, age, marital status, handicap, or Vietnam-era
    veteran status." A university pamphlet, soon withdrawn, explained that
    such "harassment" would include hanging a Confederate flag on your
    dorm room door or being part of a student group that "sponsors
    entertainment that includes a comedian who slurs Hispanics."

    Ironically, a one-time member of Berkeleys Free Speech Movement seized
    on this approach when she became an administrator. Annette Kolodny, a
    dean of the University of Arizonas College of Humanities, used her
    1998 book Failing the Future to explain why colleges needed to
    regulate what students said. In concert with other administrators,
    Kolodny had stiffened penalties for offensive speech and created
    workshops in which new students could have their values certified or
    corrected. Her bogeyman was "antifeminist intellectual harassment,"
    and her polices were designed to bring contrary speech out into the
    open, so it could be "readily recognized and effectively contained."

    By the start of the 1990s, Kolodnys view of campus speech was the
    norm. Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy told The New York Times in
    1991 that speech codes made sense, and that their opponents were just
    warring against 1960s values. Journalists had gotten some taste of
    universities strange speech standards through The Dartmouth Review, a
    conservative newspaper whose editors were punished for articles that
    would have been protected anywhere else in New Hampshire. But they
    didnt comprehend how strict the standards were until codes at
    Stanford, the University of Wisconsin, and George Mason University
    were challenged in court and overturned. Based on these cases, schools
    learned how to design speech restrictions that were more likely to
    pass legal muster.

    The speech codes, increasingly unpopular but largely still in effect,
    contain more than a whiff of the omnipotence administrators enjoyed
    under in loco parentis. Students are not treated as the adults that
    Dixon made them out to be. Instead theyre young minds that need
    shaping. In most cases the bodies formed to govern speech -- student
    judicial boards, special committees -- are uniquely able to adjudicate
    without explaining their standards for punishment.

    Universities speech restrictions, unlike their recreational policies,
    do more to attract lawsuits than to repel them. NCHERM offers a
    seminar on how administrators can thwart the Foundation for Individual
    Rights in Education and the American Civil Liberties Union. But there
    hasnt been any measurable trend toward saving face by scrapping these
    rules. Theyre seen as too important to ditch -- and thats illustrative
    of the way universities view their students.

    Back in Control

    Four decades after in loco parentis started to stagger, college
    students would be hard pressed to name their new personal liberties.
    Yes, they no longer fear "double secret probation." And when
    administrators crack down, they will almost always at least provide a
    reason. But todays students may be punished just as hard as their
    predecessors -- often harder. Theyve discovered that social engineers
    have a hard time turning down the opportunity to control things.

    The expanding control over college students has had repercussions in
    the rest of America. Campuses are proving grounds for make-nice public
    programs. Theyve provided laboratories to test speech codes and small,
    designated "free speech zones" for protests. (Such zones marginalize
    and effectively silence dissent, which is one reason theyve been
    adopted by the major political parties for their national
    conventions.) The stiffening of campus law also illustrates the trend
    toward greater control of adults personal behavior.

    In loco parentis could be overturned only once. After 1974, students
    should have had an arsenal of new rights. But parents never stopped
    believing that universities were responsible for shaping their kids,
    and schools have nervously assumed that too much freedom will bring
    about the systems collapse.

    It wont. College students will drink, despair, play loose with
    hygiene, make dirty jokes. Before in loco parentis made its comeback,
    they were thriving. Meanwhile, the changes that really worried
    academics in the 1970s -- demands for new disciplines, shrinking core
    curricula -- are settling into permanence. Its the most enjoyable
    effect of the 60s student revolts thats being whittled away.

    David Weigel is an editorial intern at USA Today and a 2004 graduate
    of Northwestern University.

    mailto:dave at davidweigel.com

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